Monday 30 March 2020 14.00 - 16.30

by video conference

This workshop considers ways in which the material culture of home environments can shape the development and experience of eating disorders and obesity. The work responds to a policy-relevant need for understanding how everyday material culture can influence people’s eating behaviours and practices.


A collaboration between the School of Anthropology and the Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford

5 September 2019

Body size, body norms and some unintended consequences of obesity intervention in the Pacific islands

A new study coauthored by Amy McLennan shows that while Pacific Islanders have experienced over 50 years of obesity interventions, such interventions mostly fail because they re-shape people’s body norms in ways that are confusing to them. The standard model of obesity intervention, involving  diet and exercise suggests a fairly straight attitudinal path to behaviour change: providing more information about the dangers of obesity will lead to changes in beliefs about and intentions toward diet/exercise; this, in turn, will lead to healthierbehaviours and choices. However, this doesn’t work in the Pacific Islands because the ways people understand and respond to concerns around obesity are far more complicated. These researchers suggests that health interventions incorporating multi-faceted data involving social, cultural and economic evidence would probably perform better, than interventions which assume that body size, norms and experiences are individual characteristics or ‘factors’ that are within an individual’s power to control. They go on to say that interventions that focus only on body size measures may increase suffering and decrease their own effectiveness, and so be part of the problem.



Body size, body norms and some unintended consequences of obesity intervention in the Pacific islands

Jessica Hardin, Amy K. McLennan & Alexandra Brewis

Annals of Human Biology, 2018, 45:3, 285-294.

Nobel Prize Dialogue Tokyo, Yokohama, Japan

Stanley Ulijaszek (UBVO Director) was recently a participant at the Nobel Prize Dialogue Tokyo 2018, on the Future of Food. Two Panel discussions with Nobel  Laurates Johann Deisenhofer and Sir Tim Hunt on “What we eat and why? Anthropological, historical and cultural reasons” and “The obesity epidemic” detailed the complexities of understanding both.


More information is available here:

Oxford obesity research featured in The Telegraph

The Telegraph recently featured research from Dr Amy McLennan and Professor Stanley Ulijaszek on how social change under colonial rule has contributed to the current rates of obesity on Nauru and the Cook Islands in the Pacific. The study’s title is ‘Obesity emergence in the Pacific islands: why understanding colonial history and social change is important’ and was first published in the Journal of Public Health Nutrition (August 2014).

See ‘British made Pacific islanders fat by civilising them with fried food.’ The Telegraph. (29 August 2014)

UBVO and Amy Sharrocks’ Museum of Water

As part of a series of events for the Museum of Water, Professor Stanley Ulijaszek delivered a talk entitled Water and evolution of the human diet on Tuesday 17 June, at Somerset House.

Water is in many ways taken for granted in everyday life, but is fundamental to what we are and who we are. From population expansions out of Africa to the present-day, water has shaped migration and settlement patterns, foraging practices and behaviours, and food security both globally and locally. Water is embedded in human metabolism and in the structure of food. It is vital for food production and consumption. This talk described the many ways in which water is implicated in the human diet: if we are what we eat, what we eat and how we eat is shaped by water. 

For more information about the Museum of Water and events, click here

Workshop: Food Systems Advocacy

This afternoon seminar, held at St Cross College on 22 May 2014, presented working papers on food systems advocacy, developed as part of the Oxford Food Governance Group’s project on consumer engagements with food governance.

Click here for more information 

Obesity ConferEnce

Obesity: a growing problem around the world

Monday 16 September 2019 9.30 - 16.00

Green Templeton College, University of Oxford

We hope to generate discussions on broad approaches to understanding obesity around the world and its relation to human development, social wellbeing, food environment, food and health policy.

All welcome. Registration is free, and lunch and refreshments will be provided.


Please register to attend via Eventbrite.

Please see the GTC event website for more information.

If you have questions, please email


Stanley Ulijaszek interviewed in Newsweek on why body mass index can misleading, in relation to United States President Donald Trump’s rise into the body mass index category of obese.


15 February 2019

Full article given here​

Grandparental support helps reduce the risk of child obesity

According to an English saying, it takes a whole village to raise a child. A new study from the Karolinska Institutet, including two UBVO collaborators (Stanley Ulijaszek and Pauline Nowicka), has shown how important the support from grandparents could be. According to the study, which is being published in Pediatric Obesity, emotional support from grandparents has a protective effect against child obesity, even with the presence of other risk factors. Previous studies have shown that the parents’ socioeconomic status affects the risk of children developing obesity. But the effect of other family-related aspects on this risk has not been investigated to the same extent. Researchers from Karolinska Institutet and researchers in social anthropology at Oxford University have jointly investigated the importance of grandparental support in this context.

“Our study shows that emotional support from grandparents may have a preventive effect against child obesity, which is a serious disease. These findings could, for instance, be incorporated into the planning of public health programmes that are aimed at reducing obesity in children. Greater social support for families with small children could help alleviate stress in parents, who will thereby be in a better position to make better food choices,” says Paulina Nowicka, Associate Professor at the Department of Clinical Science, Intervention and Technology at Karolinska Institutet, and UBVO Associate.


Low grandparental social support combined with low parental socioeconomic status is closely associated with obesity in preschool-aged children: A pilot study
Louise Lindberg, Anna Ek, Jonna Nyman, Claude Marcus, Stanley Ulijaszek, Paulina Nowicka 
Pediatric Obesity, https//doi: 10.1111/ijpo.12049 


Obesity a major killer for Pacific Islanders: Radio Interview

Stanley Ulijaszek (UBVO Director), and Amy McLennan (UBVO Administrator) recently spoke to Robyn Williams of ABC Radio’s ‘The Science Show’ about their research on obesity in the Pacific islands. 


The complete interview is available here:


Michelle Pentecost and Stanley Ulijaszek contribute to the World Health Organization Report of the Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity, 2016. Their contribution, along with colleagues at Harvard and Johns Hopkins Universities, was on how inequalities structure childhood obesity.

The report can be found here

Rosie Kay,Leverhulme Artist in Residence

Rosie Kay, the first choreographer appointed as Leverhulme Artist in Residence at the Unit for Biocultural Variation and Obesity,  is working in close collaboration with Professor Stanley Ulijaszek, Dr Karin Eli, and other UBVO anthropologists. Rosie Kay and Karin Eli’s joint project is entitled Choreographing lived experience: the stories that dancing bodies tell.

Astor Visiting Lecturer: Adam Drewnowski 22-25 April 2008

Professor Drewnowski, Director of the Exploratory Center for Obesity Research at the University of Washington, came to the Unit 22-25 April 2008 to present a series of lectures on his globally-renowned research into obesity and its relationships to taste and satiety, economics, inequality and health. The remit of Professor Drewnowski’s Center in Seattle is to devise transdisciplinary approaches to obesity research, with a focus on the environment, economics, and public health policy. This is complementary to the recently formed Unit for Biocultural Variation and Obesity, whose aims are to develop multidisciplinary approaches to obesity.

Lecture 1: Mapping Poverty and Obesity

Lecture 2: Sweet Taste, Satiety and Food Reward

Lecture 3: Do Healthier Diets Cost More?

Lecture 4: Food, Incomes and Health