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Christopher Kuzawa

John D. MacArthur Professor of Anthropology

Ph.D., Anthropology and MSPH, Epidemiology
Emory University, 2001

As a biological anthropologist with training in epidemiology, Kuzawa’s research focuses on the role that the intrauterine and early postnatal environments have on development and long-term health. The premise of this research, supported by studies in both human populations and animal models, is that what a mother eats during pregnancy, her access to adequate prenatal care, or her level of stress, may permanently affect offspring biology in a fashion that influences risk for the most common causes of adult morbidity and mortality, including hypertension, diabetes, and heart attacks. This is a novel example of what is known as ‘developmental plasticity’, or the sensitivity of the developing body to the environment experienced during early stages of development.

Kuzawa is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Current Research

Early Nutrition, Growth, and Aging in the Philippines. Since 1998, Kuzawa has worked with collaborators at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and at the University of San Carlos, Cebu City (Philippines), on the Cebu Longitudinal Health and Nutrition Survey, one of the few studies in a developing nation capable of exploring this problem with longitudinal data extending back to pregnancy. The study enrolled more than 3,000 pregnant mothers in 1983 and has since followed both the mothers and their offspring, who are now young adults having children of their own. The results of this research suggest that the nutritional and lifestyle changes underway in the Philippines are likely to have more adverse effects on health among individuals who were born small or to mothers who were undernourished during pregnancy. Current research, supported by the National Institutes of Health, is using longitudinal data to evaluate early life and developmental influences on the pace of epigenetic aging (a novel marker of the pace of biological aging) in the original birth cohort, while also prospectively evaluating the links between epigenetic age and subsequent morbidity and mortality among the older/mothers’ generation..

Psychobiology of Social Relationships and Fatherhood. Research on bird and mammal species in which males provide care shows that testosterone is often regulated in response to breeding opportunities and parenting status. Kuzawa and his students and collaborators have explored the role of social context as an influence on male reproductive hormone regulation among the nearly 800 young men in the Cebu Study. This is among the largest study of its kind and has now tracked these men longitudinally to evaluate how social context, fatherhood, and hormonal status influence each other as men age. In 2013, funding from the National Science Foundation allowed Kuzawa and his collaborators to document stability and change in hormonal profiles in males as they age, as well as evaluate the impact that paternal care has on child development and school performance in their children.

The Energetic Costs of Human Brain Development: Impacts across the Lifecycle.  It is well known that the human adult brain consumes 20% of the body’s resting energy use despite accounting for only 3% of body weight.  What is less well-appreciated is that the brain’s energy requirements reach their peak in childhood, when it consumes 66% of the body’s resting energy expenditure.  Kuzawa and his collaborators and students are exploring how this large energy drain related to brain development has influenced the evolution of the pattern of human growth, and how the brain’s very high requirements for glucose might inform new understandings of common ailments like diabetes and obesity.

Interdisciplinary Center for Health Disparities Research. Working with other IPR faculty fellows from several departments, Kuzawa is part of Cells to Society (C2S): The Center on Social Disparities and Health, a research center that aims to promote interdisciplinary approaches to the study of social disparities and health at Northwestern. 

Selected Publications

Recent Publications

Kuzawa, C., C. Ryan, L. Adair, N. Lee, D. Carba, J. MacIsaac, K. Dever, P. Atashzay, M. Kobor, and T. McDade. 2022. Birth weight and maternal energy status during pregnancy as predictors of epigenetic age acceleration in young adults from metropolitan Cebu, Philippines. Epigenetics DOI: 10.1080/15592294.2022.2070105

Kim A., R. Said Mohamed, S. Norris, L. Richter, and C. Kuzawa. 2022. Psychological legacies of intergenerational trauma under South African Apartheid: Prenatal stress predicts increased psychiatric morbidity during late adolescence and early adulthood in Soweto, South AfricaJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry DOI: 10.1111/jcpp.13672

Rosenbaum S., C. Kuzawa, T. McDade, S. Bechayda, and L. Gettler. Neither environmental unpredictability nor harshness predict reliance on alloparental care among families in Cebu, Philippines. Development and Psychopathology 34(2): 743–54.

Aronoff, J., A. Ragin, C. Wu, M. Markl, S. Schnell, A. Shaibani, C. Blair, and C. Kuzawa. 2022. Why do humans undergo an adiposity rebound? Exploring links with the energetic costs of brain development in childhood using MRI-based 4D measures of total cerebral blood flow. International Journal of Obesity 46(5): 1044–50.

Gettler L., S. Rosenbaum, P. Kuo, M. Sarma, S. Bechayda, T. McDade, and C. Kuzawa. 2022. Evidence for an adolescent sensitive period to family experiences influencing adult male testosterone production. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 119(23): e2202874119.

Meloni, M., T. Moll, A. Issaka, and C. Kuzawa. 2022. A biosocial return to race? A cautionary view for the postgenomic era. American Journal of Human Biology 11:e23742.

Amato, K., M. Arrieta, M. Azad, M. Bailey, J. Broussard, C. Bruggeling, E. Claud, E. Costello, E. Davenport, B. Dutilh, H. Swain Ewald, P. Ewald, E.  Hanlon, W. Julion, A. Keshavarzian, C. Maurice, G. Miller, G. Preidis, L. Segurel, B. Singer, S. Subramanian, L. Zhao, C. Kuzawa. 2021. The human gut microbiome and health inequities. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 118 (25) e2017947118.

Kuzawa, C. 2020. Pregnancy as an intergenerational conduit of adversity: how nutritional and psychosocial stressors reflect different historical timescales of maternal experience. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences 36:42-7.

Kim, A., E. Adam, S. Bechayda, and C. Kuzawa. 2020. Early life stress and HPA axis function independently predict adult depressive symptoms in metropolitan Cebu, PhilippinesAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology 2020:e24105. 

Ryan, C., and C. Kuzawa. 2020. Germline epigenetic inheritance: Challenges and opportunities for linking human paternal experience with offspring biology and healthEvolutionary Anthropology 29:180– 200.

Kuzawa, C., L. Adair, S. Bechayda, Borja, D. Carba, P. Duazo, D. Eisenberg, A. Georgiev, L. Gettler, N. Lee, E. Quinn, S. Rosenbaum, J. Rutherford, C. Ryan, and T. McDade. 2020. Evolutionary life history theory as an organizing framework for cohort studies: Insights form the Cebu Longitudinal Health and Nutrition Survey. Annals of Human Biology 47(2):94-105.

Thayer, Z., J. Rutherford, and C. Kuzawa. 2020. The Maternal Buffering Model: An evolutionary framework for pregnancy nutritional interventionEvolution, Medicine, and Public Health 1:14-27.

Blair, C., C. Kuzawa, and M. Willoughby. 2020. The development of executive function in early childhood is inversely related to change in body mass index: Evidence for an energetic trade-off? Developmental Science 23:e12860.