UCL News


Spotlight on Clare Llewellyn

23 January 2018

This week the spotlight is on Clare Llewellyn, Lecturer in Behavioural Obesity Research, Department of Behavioural Science and Health.

Clare Llewellyn

What is your role and what does it involve?

I lead the Obesity research group in the Department of Behavioural Science and Health, where I'm also a Lecturer in Behavioural Obesity Research. My research focuses on understanding how genes and the environment influence our weight. I'm particularly interested in finding out how our eating behaviour is shaped in early life. Is this something that we learn, or are we born with certain predispositions towards food that are largely inherited? To tackle this question I use a variety of different research methods, and am able to take advantage of some of UCL's world-renowned epidemiological datasets, including twin cohorts.

Much of my time is also spent teaching, and I find this aspect of my work extremely rewarding. I'm an academic tutor for the MSc in Health Psychology (which I undertook myself many years ago), and lecture and supervise students for research. I also have several PhD students who I very much enjoy mentoring.

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?

I've been at UCL since 2006 - although initially as an MSc and then PhD student - and I hope to be here for many more years. Before joining UCL, I worked on the commercial side of pharmaceuticals, for GlaxoSmithKline.

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?

In 2007, with my late mentor Professor Jane Wardle, I helped establish Gemini - the largest twin study ever set up to explore how genes and the environment influence early childhood growth. Gemini includes about 2400 British families who had twins born in 2007, and we have been following the families for over a decade, studying the twins' growth, eating behaviour and home family life. Gemini has become an incredibly valuable resource; it is one of the richest early growth datasets in the world, and the largest dietary dataset for toddlers in the whole of the UK. Gemini has led to some important discoveries about the nature and nurture of early growth. We now know that babies are born with very different appetites, which are largely explained by their genes; and infant appetite is a key determinant of early growth rate. I currently lead Gemini, and will be collecting new data in 2018.

But teaching and supervision is equally as important to me, and so I was honoured this year when Students' Union UCL recognised my commitment to my students with an award for 'outstanding contribution to research supervision'.

Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list?

I am thrilled to have just been awarded a three-year fellowship with mental health research charity MQ. This award will allow me to develop the first large scale research programme into the role of appetite in the development of eating disorders. Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia are serious mental illnesses with life-limiting impacts. In fact, anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. But we still don't know much about how they develop, which makes prevention impossible. We also know very little about the early eating behaviour or feeding environments of those who go on to develop eating disorders. I will use data from Gemini and three other large paediatric cohorts in the UK, the Netherlands and Norway to study how early appetite relates to the development of disordered eating in adolescence, and the role that the early home feeding environment might play. I hope this work will help us to identify children who are at risk, so that we can intervene before eating disorders become fully established. The research may also lead to new treatments targeting appetite regulation.

What is your favourite album, film and novel?

Album: M83 - Hurry up we're dreaming

Film: Dr Zhivago

Novel: The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald

What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?

Hmm, this is a tough one because my favourite jokes are definitely not pre-watershed! But I do have an appreciation for silliness, so how about this one:

What time does Sean Connery get to Wimbledon?


Who would be your dream dinner guests?

I have lots! But my top four would be Kathryn Hepburn, Dawn French, Sir Humphrey Appleby and Gertrude Bell.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Don't worry; it's not as bad as you think! And make sure you spend time having fun, and with the people you love.

What would it surprise people to know about you?

My first degree was Theology and I can translate the New Testament from Greek to English.

What is your favourite place?

East Village, New York City.