Dr. Barry Popkin

Barry M. Popkin, PhD

W. R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor
Department of Nutrition


Barry M. Popkin, PhD, is the W. R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor of nutrition at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. He holds a doctorate in agricultural economics from Cornell University. He established the Division of Nutrition Epidemiology at UNC and later established and led the UNC Interdisciplinary Obesity Center, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). He developed the concept of the Nutrition Transition, the study of the dynamic shifts in dietary intake and physical activity patterns and trends around obesity and other nutrition-related noncommunicable diseases (NCD). His research program focuses globally (both in the U.S. and in low- and middle-income countries) on understanding the stages of transition and is currently focused on working with the impact of programs and policies meant to improve the health of the population during their time of transition. 

Having played a central role in placing the concerns of global obesity, its determinants and consequences on the global stage, Popkin is involved now in work on the program and policy design and evaluation side at the national level, including collaborative sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB)/junk food tax evaluation research in Mexico (with the National Institute of Public Health) in evaluating the impact of the Mexican SSB and nonessential food taxes, and in conducting similar work with the Institute of Nutrition and Food Technology, University of Chile in evaluating an SSB tax and regulatory policies to create healthier diets and prevent obesity and other nutrition-related NCDs. Similar collaborations with the University of Western Cape and Wits Universities Priceless research team on evaluating the sugar-sweetened tax in that country and working on other obesity prevention activities, and related programs collaborating with the University of Sao Paulo and Javeriana University in Colombia and Brazil, respectively. His group also is actively involved in research in the US and other countries on policies to improve our global diets with the Global Food Research Program of UNC(see globalfoodresearchprogram.org)

Popkin was an original member of the G-7 ("Group of 7") Food and Nutrition Security Initiative, the first mission to work with the former Soviet Union. The G-7 nations originally included the U.S., Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the U.K. They later became known as the G-8 when Russian was added. He has also participated in an array of international initiatives related to food, hunger and obesity, including directing longitudinal surveys in China and Russia and involvement in the survey research in Brazil, Mexico, China and several countries in Southeast Asia. Popkin has noted that the ways people eat, drink and move have changed drastically since World War II, contributing to the increase of obesity. This was the premise of his widely popular book, The World is Fat (January 2009, Avery-Penguin Publishers), which was translated into 11 languages.

He has received a dozen major awards for his global contributions, including the 2016 World Obesity Society: Population Science and Public Health Award--for top global research in public health with also significant service contributions; 2015 U.K Rank Science Prize; and The Obesity Society's Mickey Stunkard Lifetime Achievement Award. He has published more than 615 refereed journal articles, and is one of the most cited nutrition scholars in the world, with more than 162,000 citations. He has chaired the dissertation committees of nearly 60 doctoral students at the Gillings School of Global Public Health and has served as principal investigator on grants totaling more than $135 million, many funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Popkin was selected to deliver the prestigious 2017 Foard Lecture at the UNC Gillings School and plenary talks at European Obesity Congress, the AHA Epidemiology-lifestyle conference, the Aust-New Zealand Obesity Congress and the South Korean Obesity congress, among others in 2017-18.

Popkin has given over 130 plenary lectures at major conferences across the world and continues as an active researcher and speaker globally.

Barry Popkin in the Gillings News

Honors and Awards

David Kritchevsky Memorial Lecture
2018, Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health Council of the American Heart Assiociation

Foard Lecture Speaker: “Creating a Healthier Global Diet and Preventing Global Obesity: Our Global Food Research Programs’ Role and Impact”
2017, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Population Science and Public Health Award
2016, World Obesity Federation

Conrad A. Elvehjem Award for Public Service in Nutrition
2015, American Society of Nutrition

Chinese gov’t first award for significant foreign contributions to Chinese Nutrition
2015, Chinese Ministry of Health and Chinese Nutrition Society

Gopalan Oration Award
2011, Indian Institute of Science

Mickey Stunkard Lifetime Achievement Award
2011, The Obesity Society

W. R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Nutrition,
2011, UNC-CH

United Kingdom Rank Prize for Science
2010, UNC-CH

awarded the McCullom Lecturer for International Nutrition
2007, Am Society of Nutrition

2006, The Carla Smith Chamblee Distinguished Professor of Global Nutrition

1998, Society for International Nutrition Research Kellogg Prize for outstanding nutrition research

Wisconsin King Christian IV Award for Civil Rights contribution
1965, University of Wisconsin

Research Interests:

Health Equity, Nutrition and Physical Activity, Obesity, Public Health Studies (Design, Conduct and Analysis)

Service Activities

Chair, Global Choices International Scientific Committee

member advisory committees: EATS International, IOM/NAS, others

Key Publications

Resistant to the recession: Low-income adults' maintenance of cooking and away-from-home eating behaviors during times of economic turbulence. Shu Ng, S Ng, Barry Popkin, B Popkin, Lindsey Smith, L Smith (2014). American Journal of Public Health, 104(5), 840-846.

Sociodemographic differences in fast food price sensitivity. Kiyah Duffey, K Duffey, Penny Gordon-Larsen, P Gordon-Larsen, David Guilkey, D Guilkey, Catarina Kiefe, C Kiefe, Katie Meyer, K Meyer, ShuWen Ng, S Ng, BarryM Popkin, B Popkin, JamesM Shikany, J Shikany, LynM Steffen, L Steffen (2014). JAMA Internal Medicine, 174(3), 434-442.

Are Food and Beverage Purchases in Households with Preschoolers Changing?. A Longitudinal Analysis from 2000 to 2011. Christopher Ford, Shu Ng, Barry Popkin (2014). American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Averting Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes in India through Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Taxation: An Economic-Epidemiologic Modeling Study. Sutapa Agrawal, Sanjay Basu, Shah Ebrahim, Barry Popkin, David Stuckler, Sukumar Vellakkal (2014). PLoS Medicine, 11(1).

Caloric beverages were major sources of energy among children and adults in Mexico, 1999-2012. Simon Barquera, Carmen Piernas, Barry Popkin, Juan Rivera, Dalia Stern (2014). Journal of Nutrition, 144(6), 949-956.


  • BS (Honor), Economics and urban community development, Delhi School of Economics and School of Social Work, 1996
  • PhD, Agricultural Economics, Cornell University, 1974
  • MS, Economics, University of Wisconsin, 1969
  • BS, BA, Economics/Demography, University of Pennsylvania, 1968
  • BS, Economics, University of Wisconsin, 1967