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Christopher Kuzawa

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.

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 the impact of early environments on cardiovascular risk in young adulthood and the determinants of healthy aging in the 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.

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

(Click here for a full list of publications)

McDade, T., C. Ryan, M. Jones, J. MacIsaac, A. Morin, J. Meyer, J. Borja, G. Miller, M. Kobor, and C. Kuzawa. 2017. Social and physical environments early in development predict DNA methylation of inflammatory genes in young adulthoodProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences  114(29): 7611–761.

Eisenberg, D., M. Hayes, and C. Kuzawa. 2017. Early life infection, but not breastfeeding, predicts adult blood telomere lengths in the PhilippinesAmerican Journal of Human Biology 29(4): e22962.

Thayer, Z., and C. Kuzawa. 2015. Ethnic discrimination predicts poor self-rated health and cortisol in pregnancy: Insights from New ZealandSocial Science & Medicine 128: 36–42.

Kuzawa, C., L. Grossman, L. Lipovich, O. Muzik, P. Hof, D. Wildman, C. Sherwood, H. Chugani, W. Leonard, and N. Lange. 2014. Energetic costs and evolutionary implications of human brain development. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Richardson, S., C. Daniels, M. Gillman, J. Golden, R. Kukla, C. Kuzawa, and J. Rich-Edwards. 2014. Society: Don't blame the mothers. Nature 512(7513): 131–32.

Thayer, Z., and C. Kuzawa. 2014. Early origins of health disparities: Material deprivation predicts maternal evening cortisol in pregnancy and offspring cortisol reactivity in the first few weeks of life. American Journal of Human Biology.

Chung, G, and C. Kuzawa. 2014. Assessing the intergenerational effects of early life nutrition: Maternal leg length but not trunk length predicts offspring placental weight and birth weight in the Philippines. American Journal of Human Biology 26(5): 652–59.

Gettler, L., T. McDade, A. Feranil, and C. Kuzawa. 2013. Do testosterone declines during the transition to marriage and fatherhood relate to men's sexual behavior? Evidence from the Philippines. Hormones & Behavior 64(5): 755–63.

Kuzawa, C. 2013. You are what your mother ate? American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 97(6): 1157–58.

Kuzawa, C. 2012. Why evolution needs development, and medicine needs evolution. International Journal of Epidemiology 41(1): 223–29.

Gettler, L., J. McKenna, T. McDade, S. Agustin, C. Kuzawa. 2012. Does co-sleeping contribute to lower testosterone levels in fathers? Evidence from the Philippines. PLoS ONE  7(9): e41559.

Kuzawa, C., and J. Bragg. 2012. Plasticity in human life history strategy: Implications for contemporary human variation and the evolution of genus Homo. Current Anthropology 53(Supp. 6): S369–82.

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.

Gettler, L., T. McDade, A. Feranil, and C. Kuzawa. 2011. First longitudinal evidence that fatherhood decreases testosterone in human malesProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109(26): 10251–56.

Thayer, Z., and C. Kuzawa. 2011. Biological memories of past environments: Epigenetic pathways to health disparitiesEpigenetics 6(7): 798–803.

Duazo, P., J. Avila, and C. Kuzawa. 2010. Breastfeeding and later psychosocial development in the PhilippinesAmerican Journal of Human Biology 22(6): 725–30.

Kuzawa, C., L. Adair, N. Lee, and T. McDade. 2010. Rapid weight gain after birth predicts life history and reproductive strategy in Filipino malesProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107(39): 16800–05.

Teslovich, T., K. Musunuru, A. Smith, C. Kuzawa, and K. Kathiresan. 2010. Biological, clinical, and population relevance of 95 loci mapped for serum lipid concentrationsNature 466: 707–13.

Kuzawa, C., and E. Sweet. 2009. Epigenetics and the embodiment of race: developmental origins of US racial disparities in cardiovascular healthAmerican Journal of Human Biology 21(1): 2–15.