Popkin Selected to Deliver 2017 Foard Lecture

February 10, 2017
Barry Popkin

Barry Popkin

Leaders at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health have announced the keynote speaker for the school’s annual Fred T. Foard Jr. Memorial Lecture, to be held this year on Thursday, April 27 at 6 p.m. at the Gillings School.

Barry M. Popkin, W.R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor of nutrition, will deliver the 49th annual Foard Lecture, “Creating a Healthier Global Diet and Working to Prevent Global Obesity: The Role and Impact of the Gillings School’s Global Food Research Program.”

Popkin, who has served on the Gillings School faculty since 1977, is an internationally renowned expert on nutrition and global obesity. He has authored more than 510 refereed journal articles on a number of topics related to obesity, including about caloric snack foods, sweetened beverages and global obesity-prevention policies. He is one of the most-cited nutrition scholars in the world, with more than 60,000 citations. His highly acclaimed 2009 book, The World Is Fat: The Fads, Trends, Policies and Products That Are Fattening the Human Race, has been translated into at least 11 languages.

“I am honored to be this year’s Foard lecturer and share some of the work I’ve done at the Gillings School over my four decades as a faculty member,” Popkin said.

Popkin developed the concept of the Nutrition Transition, the study of the dynamic shifts in dietary intake and physical activity patterns and trends that lead to obesity and other nutrition-related disease. His research focuses understanding global shifts in stages of the transition and on developing programs and policies to improve population health linked with this transition.

He leads the UNC Global Food Research Program, which has developed a method to monitor changes from factory to fork and uses this strategy to evaluate global food company activities.

Having played a central role in placing the concerns of global obesity, its determinants and consequences on the global stage, he is now involved in work on program and policy design and evaluation at the national level in several countries. This includes evaluation research in Mexico on the sugar-sweetened beverage and junk food taxes (in collaboration with Mexico’s National Institute of Public Health) and similar work with the University of Chile’s Institute of Nutrition and Food Technology to evaluate a beverage tax and marketing and front-of-package labeling controls. He currently works with eight other countries to develop tax and regulatory policies to develop healthier diets and to prevent obesity and other nutrition-related noncommunicable diseases.

Popkin has received a dozen major awards for his global contributions, including the 2016 World Obesity Society’s Population Science and Public Health Award for a top global researcher in public health with significant service contributions; the 2015 U.K. Rank Science Prize; and the Obesity Society’s Mickey Stunkard Lifetime Achievement Award.

Popkin was an original member of the G7 Food Security and Nutrition’s first mission to work with the former Soviet Union. The G7 (or Group of 7) nations include the U.S., Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the U.K.

He has participated in an array of international initiatives related to food, hunger and obesity, including directing longitudinal surveys in China and Russia and involvement in survey research in Brazil, Mexico, the United Arab Emirates, India, Norway and the Philippines. He is engaged at the national and global level in policy formulation for many countries, particularly 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.

“This is linked partly to remarkable shifts in our global food system and to the presence of a vast array of modern technology that has dramatically changed our food supplies and the way we take part in physical activities,” he said.

In the lecture, he will address, among other topics, his work to institute and evaluate large-scale regulatory strategies to improve people’s diets.

“This includes work we have done to obtain and evaluate taxes on sugary beverages and junk food in Mexico and work in Chile to protect children, and eventually all consumers, from foods and beverages with little or no nutritional value,” he said. “Our goal is to learn which large-scale regulatory and tax actions work, and ultimately, to establish a culture of more healthful eating. Such an effort will prevent future obesity and its many attendant chronic diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”

Popkin, who earned a doctorate in agricultural economics at Cornell University, has chaired the dissertation committees of 57 doctoral students at the Gillings School and has served as principal investigator on grants totaling more than $134.9 million, many from the National Institutes of Health.

In a short ceremony preceding the lecture, school leaders will announce the winners of two prestigious awards, the Harriet Hylton Barr Distinguished Alumni Award, which recognizes a Gillings School alumnus or alumna for commitment, service, leadership, innovation, collaboration and impact in the field of public health, and the Bernard G. Greenberg Alumni Endowment Award, presented to an outstanding Gillings School faculty member for excellence in teaching, research and service.