Ellen W. Demerath, PhD

Professor, Division of Epidemiology and Community Health

Ellen W. Demerath

Contact Info


Office Address:
Division of Epidemiology & Community Health
1300 2nd Street S, Suite 300
Minneapolis MN 55455
United States

PhD, Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania

MS, Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania

BA, Biological Anthropology, Harvard University


My research program seeks to understand the interplay of early-life factors, including prenatal and postnatal nutrition and genetics) on growth rate and body composition changes in infancy, adolescence, and adulthood. My current studies cover three major themes: 1) the developmental origins of obesity, including breast milk composition and its role in transgenerational obesity, 2) the relationship of body composition trajectories to obesity and neurocognitive development in preterm infants, and 3) molecular biomarkers obesity (telomere length attrition, DNA methylation variation).


Chronic diseases, genetics, mother & children, obesity, genetic epidemiology, child health, breastfeeding, epigenetics, nutrition, child development


Research Funding Grants

  • 2014–2019, NIH NICHHD, "Maternal Obesity, Breast Milk Composition, and Infant Growth," Principal Investigator
  • 2015–2017, "The Associations of Mid- and Late-Life Physical Activity on Falls in a Large Prospective Study of Older Adults," Principal Investigator
  • 2016–2017, University of Minnesota Grand Challenges Research Grant, "Minnesota Precision Medicine Collaborative: Transforming Health and Advancing Equity," Co-Principal Investigator
  • 2016–2022, NIH NHLBI, "Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study – Field Centers," Co-Investigator 
  • 2015–2019, NIH NHLBI, "ARIC Neurocognitive Study (ARIC-NCS)," Co-Investigator
  • 2013–2017, NIH NHLBI, "Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA)-Field Center-Renewal," Co-Investigator
  • 2013–2017, March of Dimes Foundation, "The Role of Linear Growth and Fat-Free Mass Gain in Determining Cognitive Outcomes in Very Low Birth Weight (VLBW) Preterm Infants," Co-Investigator


See a full list of publications on PubMed

Recent Publications

  • Mendelson MM, Marioni RE, Joehanes R, Liu C, Hedman ÅK, Aslibekyan S, Demerath EW, Guan W, et al. "Association of Body Mass Index with DNA Methylation and Gene Expression in Blood Cells and Relations to Cardiometabolic Disease: A Mendelian Randomization Approach," PLoS Medicine, Jan 2017
  • Demerath EW, Johnson W, Davern BA, Anderson CG, Shenberger JS, Misra S, Ramel SE. "New body composition reference charts for preterm infants," American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Jan 2017
  • Scheurer JM, Zhang L, Gray HL, Weir K, Demerath EW, Ramel SE. "Body Composition Trajectories From Infancy to Preschool in Children Born Premature Versus Full-Term," Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition, Dec 2016
  • Joehanes R, Just AC, Marioni RE, Pilling LC, Reynolds LM, Mandaviya PR, Guan W, Xu T, Elks CE, Aslibekyan S, Moreno-Macias H, Smith JA, Brody JA, Dhingra R, Yousefi P, Pankow JS, Kunze S, Shah SH, McRae AF, Lohman K, Sha J, Absher DM, Ferrucci L, Zhao W, Demerath EW, et al. "Epigenetic Signatures of Cigarette Smoking," Circulation: Cardiovascular Genetics, Sept 2016


Teaching Areas

I teach within the epidemiology and community health division and lead courses on genetics, maternal and child health, and nutrition/obesity. 


  • PubH 6381, Genetics in Public Health
  • PubH 6606, Child Health
  • PubH 6915, Nutrition Assessment

Community Engagement

As a way to connect researchers to participants, I helped launch the D2D: Driven to Discover Research Facility at the Minnesota State Fair. 




Dr. Demerath discusses Genetics in Public Health

In The News

SPH News

  • Mothers with Higher Quality Diets Have Slimmer, Leaner Babies (Read More)
  • Measuring Appetite-Regulating Hormones in Breast Milk (Read More)
  • Understanding Obesity — Starting with a Baby's First Meal (Read More)
  • Breast Milk from Heavier Mothers Has Higher Levels of Leptin and Insulin (Read More)
  • Finding the Ideal Body Composition for Preterm Babies (Read More)
  • Study Shows Smoking Leads Imprint on DNA (Read More)
  • Obesity Can Lead to Alteration of Specific Genes (Read More)

In The Media:

  • Researchers investigate link between breast milk and obesity (Minnesota Daily)