Christopher Kuzawa


Christopher W. Kuzawa is a biological anthropologist with interests and research in the areas of developmental plasticity, developmental and intergenerational influences on biology and health, evolutionary medicine, the evolution of human life history, epidemiology, and social influences on health disparities.Kuzawa Photo.gif

Research & Work

Kuzawa’s major contributions to medical anthropology are concerned with his use of human life history and developmental origins of health and disease (DOHaD) . His dissertation research with Filipino women and adolescents was able to show maternal nutrition and environment during pregnancy as well as the mother’s own birth outcome were predictors of low birth weight babies and cardiovascular disease risk factors in the adolescent offspring. Since 1998, he has worked with colleagues on the Cebu Longitudinal Health and Nutrition Study in Cebu, Philipines. The study began in 1983 with 3,000 women, it has since followed those women through pregnancy to research the links between parental health and weight to health outcomes seen in offspring through a focus on non-genetic causes.

In order to more fully understand and elaborate on life history theory, his work includes insight on social, economic, and racial inequalities that affect and predict chronic disease and poor health over the life course. Intergenerational programming is what occurs when the cumulative effects of allostatic load are passed down a family line producing physical adaptations in offspring who may or may not directly experience the original stressful environmental factors. This creates mismatches between what the individual’s physiological systems prepared for during development and what they face in the real world. These mismatches can result in negative outcomes, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Kuzawa takes an applied public health approach to his developmental origins work. By integrating multigenerational data rather than looking at the individual, short-term fetal adaptations will become clearer, and when matrilineal history is incorporated with the accompanying external ecological fluctuations it will be possible to form more effective interventions.[1] Illuminating health linkages over the life course provides opportunities to prevent health problems in adulthood by intervening before birth, in infancy, or in childhood. For instance, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes are all linked to genetic inheritance and gestational environment. A more holistic understanding of social determinants and environmental forces, and their impacts on generational health discrepancies will advance the field of public health by increasing our ability to improve overall health status in populations.

It is widely accepted that fetal environment and stress during development is a predictor of health outcomes later in the life course. Kuzawa has conducted work on fetal origins similar to work done by David Barker, founder of “The Barker Hypothesis”, which predicts that individuals who experience a stressful fetal environment and low birth weight will have a higher likelihood of cardiovascular problems later in life. This idea is linked to developmental plasticity, which is “the ability of a gene to generate a range of possible phenotypes (body and behavior) contingent on environmental experience."[2] Kuzawa focuses less on the individual pregnancies and more on intergenerational child bearing as a linkage of environmental programming and its effects on individual birth and life course outcomes. He combines evolutionary theory and developmental origins to identify external factors to which matrilines have adapted. For example, Kuzawa & Quinn (2009) state, “These evolutionary models propose a process of transgenerational epigenetic adaptation that links the environmental experiences of mothers with phenotypic variation, adaptation, and disease risk in their offspring.”[3] Kuzawa’s work using DOHaD is not only exploring the impacts of fetal environment on the individual, he is incorporating an evolutionary perspective and seeking to understand the historical benefits of programming on a matriline and how those benefits may have become biological determinants in our modern society. He uses this work to highlight health disparities exacerbated by social inequalities. In particular, he explores the embodiment of racism by African American women and the ways in which it predicts their disparate birth outcomes and cardiovascular disease status. He concludes that transgenerational influences, phenotypic plasticity, and social environment factors can better account for health disparities between races than genetics can.[4]

Some of his current work that has received a lot of popular attention and exposure explores the affects of fathering offspring on testosterone and progesterone levels in Filipino males[5] ; the intergenerational embodiment of health and disease through height and growth patterns[6] ; the impact of weight gain during infancy and childhood on diabetes risk in adults[7] ; and gestational age, size at birth, and child growth trajectories in five cohorts within countries of lower and middle-income[8]


Kuzawa graduated summa cum laude from University of Colorado at Boulder in 1993 with his B.A. in Anthropology. He went on to earn his M.S.PH in Epidemiology and his Ph.D. in Anthropology from Emory University in Atlanta, GA in 2001. He completed his Postdoctoral fellowship in cardiovascular epidemiology at University of Minnesota in Minneapolis in 2002. In 2002, he became an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. He has been on the faculty there ever since. In 2008 he became an associate professor in the same department. Since 2005 he has been a faculty fellow within the Institute for Policy and Research at Northwestern University. He is a founder and a member of the executive committee for Cells 2 Society, the Center on Social Disparities and Health . In addition, he has been a member of the Center for Reproductive Science at Northwestern since 2004 and an adjunct curator in anthropology at The Field Museum in Chicago since 2003.

Kuzawa is well liked by his students. They have nominated him to the Faculty Honor Roll twice. His current funding includes a National Institute of Health grant to research “Multidimensional pathways to healthy aging among Filipino women”, and a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant focusing on “Evolutionary origins of brain energetics and adaptive plasticity of humans.” As a doctoral student Kuzawa received NSF funding for his Dissertation on “Birth weight culture change and cardiovascular risks in Filipino adolescents.”

Major Publications

2012 Kuzawa CW, Eisenberg DTAE, “Intergenerational predictors of birth weight in the Philippines: Correlations with mother’s and father’s birth weight and a test of the maternal constraint hypothesis” PLoS ONE 7(7):e40905. (online at

2011 Kuzawa CW, Thayer Z, “The timescales of human adaptation: the role of epigenetic
processes” Epigenomics, 3(2) 221-34.

2009 Kuzawa CW, Sweet E, “Epigenetics and the embodiment of race: developmental
origins of US racial disparities in cardiovascular health”. Amer J Hum Biol. 21(1): 2-15.

2009 Kuzawa CW, Quinn EA, “Developmental origins of adult function and health:
Evolutionary hypotheses”, Annual Review of Anthropology, 38: 131-47.

2008 Kuzawa CW, “The developmental origins of adult health: intergenerational inertia in
adaptation and disease” In Evolution and Health, W Trevathan, EO Smith and JJ
McKenna (eds). Oxford University Press. pp. 325-349.

2005 Kuzawa, CW, “The fetal origins of developmental plasticity: Are fetal cues reliable
predictors of future nutritional environments?”. Amer J Hum Biol 17 5-21. (online at

1998 Barrett, RL, Kuzawa, CW, McDade, TW, Armelagos, GA, “Emerging and reemerging infectious diseases: the third epidemiologic transition”. Annual Reviews of Anthropology, 27: 247-71.

Online Resources

Kuzawa’s Webpage:

2009 Kuzawa CW, “Testosterone and Male Life History”, EvoS Seminar at Binghamton University.

Chris Kuzawa: Testosterone and Male Life History from EvoS on Vimeo.

2007 Kuzawa CW, "Early Nutrition, Development and Health: Evolutionary Perspectives on the Metabolic Syndrome", in Nesse, R. (ed.), Evolution and Medicine: How New Applications Advance Research and Practice, The Biomedical & Life Sciences Collection, Henry Stewart Talks Ltd, London. Online at

Blog post discussing Fetal Origins and Chris Kuzawa

Further Reading

Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease. Online at

2013 Kuzawa CW, "How Can We Overcome the Biological Inertia of Past Deprivation? Anthropological Perspectives on the Developmental Origins of Adult Health." Families and Child Health, National Symposium on Family Issues, Vol.3 Pp.13-21.


  1. ^ Kuzawa, CW
    2005 “The fetal origins of developmental plasticity: Are fetal cues reliable
    predictors of future nutritional environments?”. Amer J Hum Biol 17 5-21.
  2. ^ Kuzawa CW, Quinn EA
    2009 “Developmental origins of adult function and health:
    Evolutionary hypotheses”, Annual Review of Anthropology, 38: 131-147.
  3. ^ Kuzawa CW, Quinn EA
    2009 “Developmental origins of adult function and health:
    Evolutionary hypotheses”, Annual Review of Anthropology, 38: 131-147.
  4. ^ Kuzawa CW, Sweet E
    2009 “Epigenetics and the embodiment of race: developmental
    origins of US racial disparities in cardiovascular health”. Amer J Hum Biol. 21(1): 2-15.
  5. ^ Gettler LT, Agustin S, McDade TW, Kuzawa CW
    2011 “Short-term changes in fathers’ hormones during father-child play: Impacts of paternal attitudes and experience” Hormones and Behavior 60(5): 599-606.
  6. ^ Addo, Yaw, Aryeh D. Stein, Caroline H. Fall, Denise P. Gigante, Aravinda M. Guntupalli, Bernardo L. Horta, Christopher W. Kuzawa, Nanette Lee, Shane A. Norris, Poornima Prabhakaran, Linda M. Richter, Harshpal S. Sachdev, Reynaldo Martorell, Consortium on Health Orientated Research in Transitional Societies (COHORTS) Group
    2013 Maternal Height and Child Growth Patterns, The Journal of Pediatrics, ISSN 0022-3476, 10.1016/j.jpeds.2013.02.002. Online at
  7. ^ Norris, Shane A., Clive Osmond, Denise Gigante, Christopher W. Kuzawa, Lakshmy Ramakrishnan, Nanette R. Lee, Manual Ramirez-Zea et al.
    2012 "Size at birth, weight gain in infancy and childhood, and adult diabetes risk in five low-or middle-income country birth cohorts." Diabetes care 35, no. 1 (2012): 72-79.
  8. ^ Kuzawa CW, Hallal PC, Adair LS, Bhargava S, Fall CHD, Lee N, Norris S, Osmond
    C, Ramirez-Zea M, Sachdev HS, Stein AD, Victora CG, and COHORTS group
    2012 “Birth weight, postnatal weight gain and adult body composition in five low and
    middle income country cohorts” Amer J Hum Biol 24(1): 5-13.