Seminar: The modern global food system: its evolution and current status and how it is related to health

Date and Time

Monday, March 24, 2014 - 14:00 to 15:00


Location: Upper Meeting Room, LIDC, 36 Gordon Square, London, WC1H 0PD

Speaker: Prof Barry Popkin

Abstract: In the last 2-3 decades there has been a remarkable transformation in low and middle income countries (LMIC’s) in the way food is marketed and purchased. This is within the context of a way of purchasing and processing food that is remarkably young. A very small proportion of even the high income country’s populations consumed more than 5% of their food before or during WWII from consumer packaged goods (CPG) sector food and beverages. The modern global food manufacturing and retailing systems emerged slowly. In contrast to the slow steady growth in higher income countries, the last 2 decades in particular have seen a remarkable transformation of how food was purchased and marketed and more recently the entire supply chain is being remarkably transformed. This shift, the proportion of calories consumed from CPG products, and potential implications for our future research needs to understand these changes and their effects on health are discussed.

Bio: Barry M. Popkin, PhD, is W. R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Nutrition at the School of Public Health of the University of Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH). He has a PhD in agricultural economics and established the Division of Nutrition Epidemiology at UNC and later established and ran the UNC Interdisciplinary Obesity Center, funded by 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 and 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 His research is primarily funded by NIH. In the US this involves long-term research on the economic and physical environment with CARDIA and the UNC Food Research Program which has developed a method to monitor changes all the way from food factories to the diet of Americans and is using this to evaluate book food company activities as well as those of retailers.

His international research is equally large-scale. He was an original member of the G-7 first mission to work with the former Soviet Union and later Russia and has participated in an array of international initiatives organized by multilateral agencies around food, hunger and obesity. Popkin directs longitudinal surveys in China and Russia and is also involved in survey research in other countries, including Brazil, Mexico, the United Arab Emirates, India, Norway and the Philippines. He is actively involved at the national and global level in policy formulation for many countries, particularly Mexico, SE Asia and China. 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 side at the national level. He has been an active consultant to an array of international agencies over his career (including the World Bank, WHO, UNICEF, and USAID). He has received a number of major awards for his global contributions (e.g. India: Gopalan Award; UK Rank Science Prize; US Kellogg Prize for Outstanding International Nutrition Research; The Obesity Society Mickey Stunkard Lifetime Achievement Award). He has published over 400 refereed journal articles, is one of the most cited nutrition scholars in the world, and is the author of a new book entitled the WORLD IS FAT(January 2009, Avery-Penguin Publishers), translated into 9 languages.

Seminar materials: Presentation slides (.pdf) and audio recording (.wma).