Barry Popkin


Dr. Barry Popkin

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Barry M. Popkin, PhD

W.K. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor, Nutrition


Dr. Popkin developed the concept of Nutrition Transition, referring to the global shift from high-fiber diets to those containing greater amounts of fat and sugar, and researches the role this phenomenon plays in the increase of obesity worldwide. Read More

Dr. Barry Popkin is Kenan Distinguished Professor of Nutrition at UNC, where he established the Division of Nutrition Epidemiology and also serves as the Director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Obesity.

He first proposed the concept of nutrition transition in 1993, which refers to the global shift from high-fiber diets to those based on more processed foods, containing greater amounts of fat and sugar. Since proposing the idea, Dr. Popkin has published several studies about the nutrition transition and its effects in the developing world.

He has also published research on risk factors for obesity and was a co-author of a widely cited 2004 paper in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition which linked beverages containing high fructose corn syrup to the disease. In addition to this, Dr. Popkin has studied both portion size and physical inactivity, concluding that both also attribute to the rise in obesity rates around the world.

Dr. Popkin has worked with a number of countries in developing policies related to obesity prevention including Mexico, Thailand,Singapore, China, Malaysia and South Korea. He conduct the ongoing China Health and Nutrition Survey and is also involved in a number of NIH-funded studies around the world including detailed longitudinal studies that he directs in China and Russia as well as related work in Brazil, Mexico, the UAE, and several other countries. He is currently a coinvestigator of the evaluation of two major sugary-sweetened beverage and junk food taxes in Mexico with the Mexican national institute of public health.

Domestically, Dr. Popkin has an active research program evaluating how the food industry is changing the nation’s food supply and effecting the quality of the American diet. Funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, this research is linked with Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Initiative, intended to prevent child obesity. He is also deeply involved in the 25-year Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study, which is investigating how socioeconomic change linked with shifts in the economic and built environment affect diet, activity and obesity in young Americans and in studies on disparities of food purchase patterns among Americans.

Dr. Popkin serves on multiple scientific advisory organizations and has published more than 360 journal articles and numerous book chapters. He is author of the 2009 book “The World is Fat: The Fads, Trends, Policies, and Products that are Fattening the Human Race” (Penguin).

Active Projects

  • SES and race-ethnic disparities in food purchasing and dietary intake: 2000-2015
  • Cross-National Patterns and Predictors of Life-cycle Smoking Behavior
  • Evaluating US children’s food purchases and caloric intake to gauge the food industry’s impact on prevention of childhood obesity
  • Emergence of Cardiometabolic Risk Across the Lifecycle in China
  • Environmental Changes and Health Outcomes across 25 Years: Four US Cities
  • Nutrition-Related NCD Prevention Training in China
  • Obesity and Metabolic Risk Disparities: Underlying Food Environment Factors


  • China
  • Mexico
  • Russia
  • United States



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