Thomas McDade

Professor of Anthropology | Director of Cells to Society (C2S): The Center on Social Disparities and Health at the Institute for Policy Research


Thom McDade is a biological anthropologist who conducts research on health and human development in relation to social and cultural contexts and processes. Much of this work focuses on the health impact of psychosocial stress, and the integration of biological measures into population-based, social science research. He is director of the Laboratory for Human Biology Research, and of Cells to Society (C2S): The Center on Social Disparities and Health.

McDade's work has appeared in a wide range of journals, including Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Social Science and Medicine, American Journal of Public Health, Demography, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, American Journal of Human Biology, Medical Anthropology, and Psychosomatic Medicine. In 2002, he received a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the nation's highest honor for scientists early in their career. PECASE awardees are drawn from those who have already received prestigious Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) grants from the National Science Foundation.

Current Research

Social Influences on Biomarkers of Stress in Early Adulthood. McDade has helped integrate biomarker data collection into Wave IV of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), and a recent RO1 award from NIH is supporting the analysis of data from this ongoing longitudinal survey. With colleagues in IPR/C2S, McDade is investigating social status, neighborhood factors, and social relationships as sources of stress that affect mental and physical health in young adults in the U.S. This is the largest ever study of stress to include objective indicators of physiological function and health (n~15,000), and findings from this research will greatly advance our understanding of how social contexts "get under the skin" to affect health in young adults.  

Long-term Effects of Early Environments on Adult Health. Do circumstances early in life—in utero, infancy, early childhood—shape health later in life? This is the central question of the Cebu Longitudinal Health and Nutrition Survey (CLHNS), which enrolled pregnant mothers in the Philippines over twenty years ago and has followed them and their offspring up ever since. McDade is a co-investigator for CLHNS, with primary responsibility for overseeing the analysis of plasma and saliva samples for biomarkers of endocrine and immune function. He is currently investigating the regulation of inflammation from a developmental, life course perspective.

Acculturation, Health, and the Ecology of Immune Function in South America. With colleagues in anthropology, McDade is investigating the impact of social, economic, and cultural transitions on child and adolescent health in remote populations in Bolivia and Ecuador. These projects are addressing the local impact of globalization, and developing new, minimally-invasive methods for measuring biomarkers of health.

Biomarkers for Population-Based Health Research. The application of minimally-invasive, "field-friendly" methods for measuring physiology is an important part of McDade's effort to conduct integrative population-based research on health. He has developed methods for assaying biomarkers in a drop of blood collected from a simple finger prick, and is currently consulting on the implementation of these methods into a number of large, nationally representative health surveys, including the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, the Health and Retirement Survey, and the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project.

Cells to Society (C2S): The Center on Social Disparities and Health. Social and cultural contexts are critical determinants of human development and health, but we know very little about the processes or pathways through which they act. Along with colleagues at IPR, McDade has helped establish C2S as a new center at Northwestern to serve as catalyst for innovative, multidisciplinary approaches to understanding health disparities.

Selected Publications

Hoyt, L. T., T. McDade, L. Chyu, G. Duncan, L. Doane, P.L. Chase-Lansdale, and E. K. Adam. 2012. Positive youth, healthy adults: Does positive well-being in adolescence predict better health in young adulthood? Journal of Adolescent Health 50(1): 66–73.

Gettler, L., T. McDade, A. Feranil, and C. Kuzawa. 2012. First longitudinal evidence that fatherhood decreases testosterone in human malesProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109(26): 10251–56.

Ludwig, J., L. Sanbonmatsu, L. Gennetian, E. K. Adam, G. Duncan, et al. 2011. Neighborhoods, obesity, and diabetes—A randomized social experiment. New England Journal of Medicine 365(16): 1509–19.

Gettler L., T. McDade, and C. Kuzawa. 2011. Cortisol and testosterone in Filipino young adult men: Evidence for co-regulation of both hormones by fatherhood and relationship statusAmerican Journal of Human Biology 23(5): 609–20.

McDade, T., L. Adair, A. Feranil, and C. Kuzawa. 2011. Positive antibody response to vaccination in adolescence predicts lower C-reactive protein concentration in young adulthood in the Philippines. American Journal of Human Biology 23(3): 313–18.

McDade, T., L. Chyu, G. Duncan, L. Hoyt, L. Doane, and E. Adam. 2011. Adolescents’ expectations for the future predict health behaviors in early adulthood. Social Science & Medicine 73(3): 391–98.

McDade, T. W., S. Lindau, and K. Wroblewski. 2011. Predictors of C-reactive protein in the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project. Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences 66:129–36.

McDade, T. W., J. Rutherford, L. Adair, and C. Kuzawa. 2010. Early origins of inflammation: Microbial exposures in infancy predict lower levels of C-reactive protein in adulthood. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 277: 1129–37.

McDade, T. W., J. Rutherford, L. Adair, and C. Kuzawa. 2009. Population differences in associations between C-reactive protein concentration and adiposity: Comparison of young adults in the Philippines and the United States. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 89:1237–45.

McDade, T. W., S. Williams, and J. J. Snodgrass. 2007. What a drop can do: Dried blood spots as a minimally-invasive method for integrating biomarkers into population-based research. Demography 44: 899–925.

McDade, T. W., V. Reyes-García, P. Blackinton, S. Tanner, T. Huanca, and W. R. Leonard. 2007. Maternal ethnobotanical knowledge is associated with multiple measures of child health in the Bolivian Amazon. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104: 6134–39.

McDade, T. W., L. C. Hawkley, and J. T. Cacioppo. 2006. Psychosocial and behavioral predictors of inflammation in middle-age and older adults: The Chicago Health, Aging, and Social Relations Study. Psychosomatic Medicine 68: 376–81.

McDade, T. W. 2003. Life history theory and the immune system: Steps toward a human ecological immunology. Yearbook of Physical Anthropology 4:100–25.

McDade, T. W., M. Beck, C. Kuzawa, and L. Adair. 2001. Prenatal undernutrition, postnatal environments, and antibody response to vaccination in adolescence. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 74:543–48.

McDade, T. W., J. Stallings, A. Angold, E. Costello, M. Burleson, J. Cacioppo, R. Glaser, and C. M. Worthman. Epstein-Barr virus antibodies in whole blood spots: A minimally-invasive method for assessing an aspect of cell-mediated immunity. Psychosomatic Medicine 62:560–68.