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Sera Young

Assistant Professor of Anthropology

Anthropologist Sera Young focuses on reducing maternal and child undernutrition in areas with low-resource settings, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Methodologically, she draws on her training in medical anthropology, international nutrition, and HIV infection to take a biocultural approach to understanding how mothers cope to preserve their health and that of their families.

For her efforts, she has received a number of awards and honors, including the Margaret Mead Award for her book, Craving Earth

Young's work has been supported by the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, McKnight Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Wenner Gren Foundation. Her research has been covered by The New York Times, BBC, NPR, National Geographic, and Scientific American.

Young was previously an assistant professor of global health and nutrition at Cornell University.

Current Research

Food Insecurity. What role does food insecurity play in adverse maternal and child health and nutritional outcomes—especially when mothers and children are living with HIV? What are the types and magnitude of effects—and which of these are modifiable? How can food insecurity be mitigated amongst women and children in low-resource settings? To answer these questions, Young is conducting observational and intervention studies in Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda.

Household-Level Water Insecurity. While much is known about how to measure food insecurity in households, little is known about how to measure water insecurity in households and its ensuing consequences. Young’s long-term goal is to leverage strategic collaborations to create a cross-culturally valid measure of household water insecurity. In the short term, she is conducting formative work on scale development and validation in Kenya, which is supported by the National Institutes of Health.

Pica (Non-Food Cravings) and Health. Is pica—the craving and consumption of non-food items such as earth, charcoal, and ice—an adaptive response to health challenges? What is the relationship between pica and iron deficiency? Using data from East Africa, North America, and elsewhere, researchers have long observed that non-food cravings and iron deficiency are associated, but the nature of the relationship is unclear. Young is using a variety of in vitro and in vivo animal studies, as well as observational studies in human and nonhuman primates, to ascertain the mechanisms underlying this observation, and to test the two major physiological hypotheses about pica: supplementation and detoxification.

Selected Publications

Koss, C., P. Natureeba, D. Nyafwono, A. Plenty, J. Mwesigwa, B. Nzarubara, T. Clark, T. Ruel, J. Achan, E. Charlebois, D. Cohan, M. Kamya, D. Havlir, and S. Young. 2016. Food insufficiency is associated with lack of sustained viral suppression among HIV-infected pregnant and breastfeeding Ugandan women. Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes 71(3): 310-15.

Young, S., B. Natamba, F. Luwedde, D. Nyafwono, B. Okia, B. Osterbauer, P. Natureeba, L. Johnson, C. Michel, A. Zheng, M. Robine, J. Achan, E. Charlebois, D. Cohan, and D. Havlir. 2015. ”I have remained strong because of that food": Acceptability and use of lipid-based nutrient supplements among pregnant HIV-infected Ugandan women receiving combination antiretroviral therapy. AIDS and Behavior 19(8): 1535–47.

Lin, J., L. Temple, C. Trujillo, F. Mejia-Rodriguez, L., Goldman Rosas, L. Fernald, and S. Young. 2014. Pica during pregnancy among Mexican-born women: A formative studyMaternal and Child Nutrition 11(4): 550-58.

Jones, A., F. Ngure, G. Pelto, and S. Young. 2013. What are we assessing when we measure food security?: A compendium and review of current metrics. Advances in Nutrition 4: 481-505.

Tuthill, E., J. McGrath, and S. Young. 2013. Commonalities and differences in infant feeding attitudes and practices in the context of HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa: A metasynthesis. AIDS Care 26(2): 214-25.

Patil, C., A. Steinmetz, E. Abrams, and S. Young. 2012. Appetite sensations and nausea and vomiting of pregnancy: An overview of the explanations. Ecology of Food and Nutrition 51(5): 394–417. 

Weiser, S., S. Young, C. Cohen, A. Tsai, P. Tien, A. Hatcher, E. Frongillo, and D. Bangsberg. 2011. Conceptual framework for understanding the bidirectional links between food insecurity and HIV/AIDS. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 94(6): 1729S-39S.

Young, S., M. Mbuya, C. Chantry, E. Geubbels, K. Israel-Ballard, D. Cohan, and M. Latham. 2011. Current knowledge and future research on infant feeding in the context of HIV: Basic, clinical, behavioral, and programmatic perspectives. Advances in Nutrition 2: 225-43.

Young, S., P. Sherman, J. Lucks, and G. Pelto, G. 2011. Why do people eat earth? A test of alternative hypotheses. Quarterly Review of Biology 86(2): 97-120.

Young, S. 2010. Pica in pregnancy: New ideas about an old condition. Annual Review of Nutrition 30: 403-22.