Barry Popkin

Barry Popkin is a distinguished Professor of Nutrition at UNC, and founder of the Interdisciplinary Obesity Center.

Barry M. Popkin, Ph.D., is the W. R. Kenan, Jr. distinguished professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC).  He has a Ph.D. in agricultural economics and established the Division of Nutrition Epidemiology at UNC and later established and ran the UNC Interdisciplinary Obesity Center, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  He has developed the concept of the Nutrition Transition, the study of the dynamic shifts in dietary intake and physical activity patterns and trends and obesity and other nutrition-related noncommunicable diseases.

His research program focuses globally on understanding the shifts in stages of the transition and programs and policies to improve the population health linked with this transition (see  Historically his research was primarily funded by the NIH but now includes several foundations. In the U.S., Popkin’ s work involves long-term research focused mainly on dietary and food purchasing behavior, the underlying determinants of patterns and trends in these behaviors and their linkages to obesity and other noncommunicable diseases. This includes an array of research focused on retailer behavior. He leads the Global Food Research Program of UNC(GFRPUNC), which has developed a method to monitor changes the entire factory to fork food system and is using this to evaluate global food company activities as well as those of retailers and their impact on our diets. In the US the GFRPUNC focuses on race-ethnic disparities, other behavior monitoring the packaged purchased food industry and various smaller efforts such as joint evaluation with a partner of the impact of the Berkeley sugar-sweetened beverage tax (SSB).  Now his US research is focused on program and policy-related work and is linked with advocacy and policy leaders across the country.

Popkin’s GFRPUNC  is equally large-scale.  This has included directing initiating longitudinal surveys in China and Russia and other survey work across all regions of the low and middle-income world. He is actively involved at the national and global level in policy formulation for many countries, particularly Mexico, Chile, Brazil, Colombia, South Africa, and several Asian countries.  He has played a central role in placing the concerns of global obesity, its determinants, and consequences on the global stage and is now actively involved in work on the program and policy design and evaluation side at the national level, including collaborative SSB/junk food tax evaluation research in Mexico(with the National Institute of Public Health) in evaluating the impact of the Mexican SSB and non-essential food taxes and similar work with the Institute of Nutrition and Food Technology, University of Chile in evaluating an SSB tax and marketing/FOP(front-of-the-package) warning message) controls.

He is working with 8 other countries currently in developing tax and regulatory policies to create healthier diets and prevent obesity and other nutrition-related NCD’s and has consulted with an additional 15-20 on fiscal and other obesity prevention policies. He has received a number of major awards for his global contributions, including: 2016 World Obesity Society: Population Science & Public Health Award –for a top global researcher in public health with also significant service contributions.; 2018 AHA Epidemiology, Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health Council David Kritchevsky Memorial lecture and Award; 2016 World Obesity Society: Population Science & Public Health Award – for a top global researcher in public health with also significant service contributions.;  2015 Conrad A. Elvehjem Award for Public Service in Nutrition; Gopalan Award, India; UK Rank Science Prize; U.S. Kellogg Prize for Outstanding International Nutrition Research; and The Obesity Society Mickey Stunkard Lifetime Achievement Award. He has published over 550 refereed journal articles, is one of the most cited nutrition scholars in the world (over 89,000 citations), and is the author of a new book entitled The World is Fat (January 2009, Avery-Penguin Publishers), translated into 11 languages.