Kyung E. (Kay) Rhee, M.D., M.Sc., M.A.

Kay Rhee is an Associate Professor of Pediatrics with special interest in childhood eating and weight related disorders. She believes it is important to understand the complex interactions between the social, behavioral, cognitive, and biologic aspects of growth and development in order to promote greater health and well-being in children. She primarily conducts research in childhood obesity and takes care of children with a wide range of eating-related disorders in the inpatient hospital setting. Kay is the Medical Director of the Medical Behavioral Unit/Eating Disorder Unit at Rady Children’s Hospital San Diego, Research Director of Pediatric Hospital Medicine, and Medical Director of the Center for Healthy Eating and Activity Research.

She received her bachelor’s degree in Human Biology and Master’s degree in Sociology from Stanford University. She received her medical degree at Temple University School of Medicine and completed her Pediatric Residency and Chief Residency at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia. She then went on to complete her T32 fellowship in General Academic Pediatrics at Boston Medical Center and received a Master’s of Science in Epidemiology at the Boston University School of Public Health. Dr. Rhee has multidisciplinary training in pediatric hospital medicine, childhood obesity, eating disorders, behavior modification and therapy, parent-child interactions, parenting skills training (Incredible Years Program), motivational interviewing, epidemiology, and social psychology.

Areas of Interest

  • Childhood Obesity
  • Parenting Styles
  • Parent Feeding Behaviors/Child Eating Behaviors
  • Eating Disorders
  • Executive Functioning
  • Behavior Change
  • Epigenetics
  • Microbiome

Ongoing Projects

  • Parent training program to improve outcomes in childhood obesity treatment
    • The purpose of this application is to evaluate the efficacy of a program that combines family-based behavioral therapy and comprehensive parenting training to standard family-based behavioral therapy on child BMI/BMI z-score outcomes. Mediators and moderators of child outcomes such as parenting style, parenting strategies, behavioral strategies, and child-level factors will be evaluated.
      • Funder: NIDDK
        Grant Number: R01DK106157
        Investigator: Kyung Rhee, Principal Investigator
  • Using a Guided Self-Help treatment model for childhood obesity management in the primary care setting
    • The goal of this proposal is to test the effect of health coaches providing obesity treatment in the primary care setting compared to usual care (PCP providing obesity management with the help of clinical decision support tools in the electronic health record) on changes in child BMI/BMI z-score.
      • Funder: HRSA/Maternal Child Health Bureau
        Grant Number: 1R40MC29452
        Investigator: Kyung Rhee, Principal Investigator
  • Southern California Nutrition Incentive Program (SCNIP)
    • The goals of this project are: (1) to develop, implement, and evaluate a multi-tiered program, which includes fruit and vegetable (FV) rebate financial incentives, FV promotions, and NEOP programming in a retail setting for SNAP participants who shop at eligible Northgate Markets in Southern California; and (2) to assess the relative feasibility, acceptability, effectiveness and cultural appropriateness of the three tiers of SCNIP.
  • Cue-Reward Learning and Weight Gain in Youth
    • The purpose of this application is to evaluate whether healthy weight children at risk for overweight (two overweight parents) learn neural relationships between innocuous cues and food faster and/or have higher levels of brain reward to the taste of food compared to healthy weight children who are not at risk for overweight (no overweight parents). We will follow these children for two years, and track weight gain and behavioral measures of reactivity to food cues. Results of this study could provide a novel hypothesis as why certain people overeat as well as insight into the risk factors associated with weight gain in children, to ultimately develop targeted prevention and intervention efforts.
      • Funder: NIDDK
        Grant Number: 1R01DK111106
        Investigator: Kerri Boutelle, Principal Investigator
  • SCH: INT: Collaborative Research: Unobtrusive Sensing and Motivational Feedback for Family Wellness
    • The goal is to develop an unobtrusive sensing and awareness system to help families improve family routines. Family routines improvement can lead to various wellness improvements, including child obesity prevention. The system will use mobile phones to detect family routines (screen viewing activities, sleep, family dinner frequency), and children participants will wear wearable devices to sense physical activity level. These sensor data will be visualized as a virtual garden / farm that gives awareness to children about their daily routines. The system collects all family users’ data and strategically shares them among families to increase motivation for family routine improvement.
      • Funder: NSF
        Grant Number: 1622626
        Investigator: Jina Huh, Principal Investigator

Selected Publications

  • Rhee KE, DeLago C, Arscott-Mills T, Mehta S, Davis R. Factors Associated with Parental Readiness to Make Changes for Overweight Children. Pediatrics. 2005;116 (1): e94-e101. PMID: 15995022.
  • Rhee KE, Lumeng J, Appugliese D, Kaciroti N, Bradley R. Parenting Styles and Overweight Status in First Grade. Pediatrics. 2006; 117: 2047-2054. PMID: 16740847.
  • Rhee KE. Childhood Overweight and the Relationship between Parent Behaviors, Parenting Style, and Family Functioning. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 2008; 615: 12-37.
  • Boutelle KN, Norman GJ, Rock CL, Rhee KE, Crow SJ. Guided Self-Help for the Treatment of Pediatric Obesity. Pediatrics. 2013 May;131(5):e1435-42. doi: 10.1542/peds.2012-2204. Epub 2013 Apr 1. PMC3639455
  • Rhee KE, Jelalian E, Boutelle K, Dickstein S, Seifer R, Wing R. Warm parenting associated with Decreasing or Stable Child BMI during treatment. Childhood Obesity. 2016 April. Vol 12, No 2.
Complete List of Published Work in My Bibliography:

Selected Presentations

  • Policy Briefing. Russell Senate Office Building. Washington, D.C. “Overweight and Obesity in America’s Children: the role of parenting”. January 23, 2008
  • RI Department of Health and Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University sponsored conference “Childhood obesity and overweight: Prevention and treatment in private practice”. Motivational Interviewing: Effective communication for pediatric weight management (CME). January 12, 2009.
  • 30th Annual Advances in the Practice of Pediatrics, San Diego, CA: “Obesity: Current Behavioral and Cognitive Treatments for Childhood Obesity”. March 11, 2016.
  • 59th Annual Postgraduate Symposium: Family Medicine Update: 2016, San Diego, CA. “Improving Recognition and Treatment of Pediatric Eating Disorders”. June 24, 2016.
  • Changing Microbiomes for Health Symposium, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, UC San Diego, CA. “Early Childhood Gut Microbiome and Risk for Obesity.” December 15-17, 2017.


  • Pediatric Hospital Medicine research core
  • PAACT rotation
  • UCSD Medical School Independent Scholarly Projects
  • Research mentorship to Pediatric Fellows and graduate students in Public Health and Psychology


  • Women in Pediatrics Taskforce, Chair
  • Women in Health Sciences, Honors and Recognitions Sub-Committee, co-Chair
  • UCSD Pediatric Residency Selection Committee
  • NIH study section (BMIO, PRDP)
  • Editorial Board, International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity


  • Medical Director, Medical Behavioral Unit, Rady Children’s Hospital San Diego/UCSD
  • Research Director, Pediatric Hospital Medicine
  • Medical Director, Center for Healthy Eating and Activity Research