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Susan Carnell, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

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  • Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

Centers & Institutes

  • Johns Hopkins Global Center on Childhood Obesity

Research Interests

Child obesity; Eating behavior; Neuroimaging; Genetics; Parent feeding


Susan Carnell received her BA in Experimental Psychology from the University of Oxford and completed her PhD on parental feeding style and children''s eating behavior at University College London. She was then awarded an ESRC/MRC Interdisciplinary Post-doctoral Research Fellowship, in which she used behavioral and genetic data from a nationwide study of twin children to examine genetic and environmental influences on appetite and obesity.

In 2007 Dr. Carnell moved to the New York Obesity Nutrition Research Center where she developed an interest in neuroendocrine influences on eating behavior and weight. Here she spearheaded two projects examining brain and gut hormone responses to stress and food cues in obese and lean adults with and without Binge Eating Disorder, and was awarded a K99/R00 Pathway to Independence award from NIDDK to investigate fMRI responses to food cues in obese and lean adolescents at high and low familial/genetic risk of obesity.

In 2013 she joined the Division of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, where she is an Assistant Professor. Her current research interests include neuroimaging studies of appetite and obesity, and genetic and environmental influences on children''s eating behavior.

Dr. Carnell enjoys communicating the science of eating behavior to the public and has a blog on the Psychology Today magazine website called "Bad Appetite."


  • English


  • The Obesity Society, Fellow
  • Society for Study of Ingestive Behavior, Member
  • Society for Neuroscience, Member
Additional Resources +
  • Education +


    • B.A., University of Oxford, Oxford, England, 2000
    • Ph.D., University College London, London, England, 2005


    • University College London, London, England, 2007, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health Health Behaviour Research Center
    • Columbia University, New York City, New York, 2013, New York Obesity Nutrition Research Center, St. Luke''s-Roosevelt Hospital
  • Research & Publications +

    Research Summary

    Why do some people become obese while others stay lean? We propose that individuals differ in appetite-related traits (e.g. food cue responsiveness, satiety sensitivity) that manifest early in life, show genetic influence, and interact with environmental factors (e.g. family feeding practices) to predict eating behaviors and weight trajectories.

    To understand more about the character and origins of these traits and their interplay with environmental factors, my lab utilizes a range of methods including behavioral tests, questionnaires, genotyping, and neuroimaging techniques (e.g. fMRI). We are currently using all of these tools to investigate the biobehavioral correlates of familial and genetic risk for obesity in lean and obese adolescents and children. Related projects include studies of eating disorders, stress-related eating, and circadian and hormonal influences on appetite.

    I also have an interest in shared etiological factors between obesity and other behaviors and disorders (e.g. impulsivity, self-regulation, ADHD), anti-psychotic induced weight gain, neuroendocrine factors in bariatric surgery, and translating research on biobehavioral risk for obesity into practical intervention strategies and advice for the public.

    Selected Publications

    1 - Carnell S, Benson L, Pryor K & Driggin E (2013) Appetitive traits from infancy to adolescence: Using behavioral and neural measures to investigate obesity risk. Physiology & Behavior, Epub Feb 28.

    2 - Carnell S, Kim Y & Pryor K (2012) Fat brains, greedy genes and parent power: a biobehavioural risk model of child and adult obesity. International Review of Psychiatry, 24, 189-199.

    3 - Carnell S, Gibson C, Benson L, Ochner C & Geliebter A (2012) Neuroimaging and obesity: current knowledge and future directions. Obesity Reviews, 13, 43-56.

    4 - Geliebter A, Carnell S & Gluck ME (2012) Cortisol and ghrelin concentrations following a cold pressor test in overweight individuals with and without Night Eating. International Journal of Obesity, Epub Dec 18.

    5 - Carnell S, Cooke L, Cheng R, Robbins A & Wardle J (2011) Parental feeding behaviours and motivations: a qualitative study in mothers of UK 3-5 y olds. Appetite, 57, 665-673.

    6 - Llewellyn CH, van Jaarsveld CHM, Johnson L, CarnellS & Wardle J (2011) Development and factor structure of the Baby Eating Behavior Questionnaire. Appetite, 57, 388-396.

    7 - Ochner C, Pantazatos S, Kwok Y, Conceicao E, Puma LM, Carnell S, Texeira J, Hirsch J & Geliebter A (2011) Selective reduction in neural responses to high-calorie foods following gastric bypass surgery. Annals of Surgery, 253, 502-507.

    8 - Llewellyn C, van Jaarsveld CHM, Johnson L, Carnell S & Wardle J (2010) Nature and nurture in infant appetite. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 91, 1172-1179.

    9 - Gibson C, Carnell S, Ochner C & Geliebter A (2010) Neuroimaging, gut peptides and obesity: novel studies of the neurobiology of appetite. Journal of Neuroendocrinology, 22, 833-845. PMID: 20553371

    10 - Carnell S, Haworth CMA, Plomin R & Wardle J (2008) Genetic influence on appetite in children. International Journal of Obesity, 32, 1468-1473.

    11 - Carnell S & Wardle J (2008) Appetite and adiposity in children: evidence for a behavioral susceptibility model of obesity. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 88, 22-29.

    12 - Carnell S & Wardle J (2007) Measuring behavioural susceptibility to obesity: validation of the Child Eating Behaviour Questionnaire. Appetite, 48, 104-113.

    13 - Carnell S & Wardle J (2007) Associations between multiple measures of parental feeding and children’s adiposity in United Kingdom preschoolers. Obesity, 15, 137-144.

    14 - Carnell S, Edwards C, Croker H, Boniface D & Wardle J (2005) Parental perceptions of overweight in UK 3-5 year olds. International Journal of Obesity, 29,353-355.

    15 - Wardle J, Carnell S & Cooke L (2005) Parental control over feeding and fruit and vegetable consumption: how are they related? Journal of American Dietetic Association, 105,227-232.

    Clinical Trials

    We are conducting a research study in adolescents (14-18 y old) and their biological mothers. The study involves three visits for 3-3.5 hours each, and includes fMRI scan (adolescent only), body composition measurements (height, weight, waist), questionnaires, computer tasks, liquid and buffet meals, and saliva collection. Compensation is up to $245, plus $10 travel costs for each visit. If interested, please call 410-955-5099 or email

  • Academic Affiliations & Courses +
  • Activities & Honors +


    • Oct 2010, Ethan Sims Young Investigator award, finalist, The Obesity Society (TOS).
    • Jun 2010, New Investigator award, finalist, International Association for the Study of Obesity (IASO).
    • Jul 2005, Student Researcher Award for PhD work on parental feeding style and child obesity, Winner, UK Association for the Study of Obesity

    Professional Activities

  • Videos & Media +

    Lectures and Presentations

    Neuroimaging studies of appetite in adults and children (part of Biological Plenary Disordered eating and the threat of obesity: Shared underlying biological and psychological mechanisms), International Conference on Eating Disorders, New York City, March 2014.

    Neural susceptibility to food advertising: Are children particularly vulnerable? (part of invited symposium From Brain to Policy: Everything You Need to Know about Food Marketing),The Obesity Society annual meeting, Atlanta, Nov 2013.

    What is the role and relative importance of biological determinants in consumers' food choice, including brain function and genomics? EU-US Symposium on Understanding Nutrition-Related Consumer Behavior: Strategies to Promote a Lifetime of Healthy Food Choices, Ghent, May 2013.

    Fat brains, greedy genes, and parent power: A multi-disciplinary approach to child obesity. British Feeding and Drinking Group annual meeting, Brighton, Mar 2012

    Recent News Articles & Media Coverage

  • Events +
  • Contact & Locations +


    • Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences - Child Psychiatry

    For Research Inquiries Contact

    600 N. Wolfe Street
    Phipps 300
    Baltimore, MD 21287

    Phone: 410-955-7192
    Fax: 410-614-3676


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