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The Global Food Research Program: obesity and NCD prevention through changing diets globally

Research, policy work and evaluations of large-scale regulatory and fiscal efforts to reduce consumption of reduce intake of unhealthy ultra processed foods and improve diet

Barry Popkin is using his research and linkages with colleagues globally to help start the Global Food Research Program(GFRP).  He and his senior collaborators Shu Wen Ng and Lindsey Smith Taillie are leading the GFRP. The GFRP is providing  the academic community, policymakers, and industry rigorous and innovative methods to measure the factory-to-fork dynamics and trends in the food supply in various countries across the globe. Our major goals are to reduce diet-related disparities in health and contribute to the creation of a more healthful food system, food environment and ultimately to prevent obesity and other nutrition-related noncommunicable diseases(NCDs). Ultra-processed foods are designed to create highly profitable (i.e., low-cost ingredients, long shelf-life, emphatic branding), convenient  (ready-to-consume, ready-to-heat), hyper-palatable products  that typically have many additives and smells added that enhances our desire to eat more of them

The GFRP is involved in policy related research in the US and now in work in China, Mexico, Chile, Brazil, Colombia, South Africa and the Caribbean.  In addition, they are consulting with 12 other countries across the globe as they work to develop similar broad-based national policies to prevent obesity.

Globally, we are building on our skills in utilising a broad spectrum of databases to understand the food retail environment, food purchasing behaviour and dietary behaviour to assist in the design and evaluation of large-scale fiscal and regulatory efforts. We have been actively involved in encouraging work in the development and design of many of these global initiatives and are working with an array of foundations and international agencies to assist countries and collaborators across the globe. Key examples include: our long-term work in the design and now the evaluation of the SSB and non-essential food taxes in Mexico; our evaluation of the  these taxes (Colchero, Popkin et al. 2016)(Batis et al), marketing controls, and front-of-the-package warning labels being implemented sequentially in Chile. On-going efforts working with other countries are creating many new initiatives. In all cases, our goals are to work closely with partners in other countries and to work on capacity building, by developing skills and training new generations of scholars in each country.

Barry Popkin initiated this work which he now co-leads.  He developed the concept of the  and leads that research program, the study of the dynamic shifts in dietary intake and physical activity patterns and trends and obesity and other nutrition-related noncommunicable diseases. This 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. Rapid socioeconomic, demographic, and technological changes, often linked with increasing globalisation, are explained by a vast array of shifts in our way of living and doing commerce. These shifts have led to an ever-increasing rate of change of dietary, activity, body composition and obesity patterns and dynamics globally.

This research program is focused on examining the patterns of change in dietary and physical activity patterns and nutritional status( especially the dynamics of the double burden of malnutrition and obesity dynamics globally) and exploring their relationships with economic, social, demographic, and health factors  It includes a number of cohort studies, some started by Popkin with others and now run by others like the Cebu Longitudinal Health and Nutrition Survey and the

He has also been a leader in attempting to understand critical issues related to the sweetening of the global diet, the way new technology introduced edible oil as a major factor in food system shifts, and many other food-related issues.  Today that has shifted to understanding food system dynamics in a broader way as they impact under and over-nutrition.

In earlier research he documented in a variety of studies the critical role of declines in physical activity and introduction of new technology as key factors and more recently much of his work has focused on the food system.  This includes introducing complex measurement of physical activity in all sectors of activity in the early 1990’s so in Russia and China and later in Cebu, his cohort studies could monitor activity dynamics. This allowed the study of how early shifts in physical activity in four key domains of formal work like in the farming, manufacturing, service sectors, transportation, home-related work(e.g. food preparation, childcare) and leisure impacted changes in weight and risks of overweight/obesity.

Both programs are  housed at the Carolina Population Center, where he couples these longitudinal surveys and studies with the team’s policy-oriented research and evaluation work in collaborating countries and policy work with other countries and multinational organisation such as the World Bank. The goal is to further our understanding of the patterns, determinants, consequences, and program and policy options for dealing with the transition stage of nutrition-related non-communicable diseases (NR-NCDs). Emphasis is placed on countries and large populations undergoing shifts in nutritional patterns and the associated health consequences that include increased NR-NCDs. We use “nutrition” rather than diet, so the term NR-NCDs incorporates the effects of physical activity and body composition rather than solely focusing on dietary patterns and their effects.


Colchero, M. A., B. M. Popkin, J. A. Rivera and S. W. Ng (2016). “Beverage purchases from stores in Mexico under the excise tax on sugar sweetened beverages: observational study.” BMJ 352: h6704.

Batis, C., J. A. Rivera, B. M. Popkin and L. S. Taillie (2016). “First-year evaluation of Mexico’s tax on nonessential energy-dense foods: an observational study.” PLOS Medicine 13(7): e1002057.

Shekar, Meera and, Popkin, Barry (2019(in press)). Obesity: Health and Economic Consequences of an Impending Global Challenge. . Washington, D.C., World Bank.

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