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Sera Young

Associate Professor, Anthropology and Global Health Studies

PhD Cornell University 2008



Research interests

The focus of Dr. Young’s work is on the reduction maternal and child undernutrition in low-resource settings, especially sub-Saharan Africa. Methodologically, she draws on her training in medical anthropology (MA, University of Amsterdam), international nutrition (PhD, Cornell) and HIV (Fellowship, University of California San Francisco) to take a biocultural approach to understanding how mothers in low-resource settings cope to preserve their health and that of their families.

Current work

My group and I focus on three major areas:
1. Food insecurity. What is the role of food insecurity in adverse maternal and child health and nutritional outcomes, especially in the context of HIV? What are the types of effects, 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 we have observational and intervention studies in Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda.
2. Household-level water insecurity. While we know how to measure household food insecurity, our understanding of both how to measure household level water insecurity and what its consequences are is in its infancy. Our longterm goal is to collaborate to create a cross-culturally valid measure of household water insecurity. In the short term, we are conducting formative work on scale development and validation in Kenya supported by the NIH. 
3. Pica (the craving and consumption of non-food items such as earth, charcoal, and ice). Is pica an adaptive response to health challenges? What is the relationship between pica and iron deficiency? In our data from East Africa, North America, and elsewhere, we have long observed that non-food cravings and iron deficiency have long been associated, but the nature of the relationship is unclear. We are using a variety of in vitro and in vivo animal studies as well as observational studies in human and non- human primates to ascertain the mechanisms underlying this observation, and to test the two major physiological hypotheses about pica: supplementation and detoxification. 


  • Ecology of Infant Feeding
  • Biocultural Perspectives on Water Insecurity
  • Methods in Anthropology/Global Health

Awards and honors

• 2013 Margaret Mead Award, American Anthropological Association and the
Society for Applied Anthropology
• 2009 Dissertation Award, Society for Medical Anthropology
• 2009 Allan Rosenfield Scholar & New Investigator in Global Health, Global
Health Council
• 2003 Rudolf Virchow Award, Honorable Mention, American Anthropological
• 2002 Christine Wilson Award, American Anthropological Association
Institute for Policy Research; Water Center; Program of African Studies , Buffett Institute
for Global Studies

Professional Service

• World Food Program: Inter-agency Task Team for Food, Nutrition, and HIV
Member 2014 - Present
• American Society for Nutrition: At Large Member of the Global Nutrition
Executive Council 2014-2016; Graduate and Professional Education Executive
Committee Member 2006-2008
• Dannon Nutrition Leadership Institute: President 2015-2016; President-elect
2012-2015; Treasurer 2010-2012
• Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition: Vice-President 2012-2014;
National Meeting Program Chair 2010-2012

Select publications

Scholar page 1.Koss, C. A.,** Natureeba, P., Nyafwono, D., Plenty, A., Mwesigwa, J., Nzarubara, B., Clark, T., Ruel, T., Achan, J., Charlebois, E., Cohan, D., Kamya, M., Havlir, D., Young, S.L. (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) 310-315.
2. Young, S.L., Natamba, B,.** Luwedde, F., Nyafwono, D., Okia, B., Osterbauer, B., Natureeba, P.,
Johnson, L., Michel, C., Zheng, A.,* Robine, M.,* Achan, J., Charlebois, E., Cohan, D., Havlir, D. (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, 0947-0.
3.Jones, A.D., Ngure, F.M., Pelto, G., Young, S.L. (2013) What are we assessing when we measure food
security?: A compendium and review of current metrics. Advances in Nutrition. 4, 481-505, doi: 10.3945/
4.Miao, D.,* Young, S.L., & Golden, C.D. (2015) A meta-analysis of pica and micronutrient status.
American Journal of Human Biology, in press. DOI: 10.1002/ajhb.22598 (Cover article.)
5.Lin, J.,* Temple, L.,* Trujillo, C., Mejia-Rodriguez, F., Goldman Rosas, L., Fernald, L., & Young, S. L.
(2014). Pica during pregnancy among Mexican-born women: a formative study. Maternal and Child
Nutrition, doi: 10.1111/mcn.12120.
6.Tuthill, E.,** McGrath, J., Young, S.L. Commonalities and differences in infant feeding attitudes and
practices in the context of HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa: a Metasynthesis. (2013) AIDS Care. doi
7.Pebsworth, P., Seim, G.,* Huffman, M., Glahn, R., Tako, E., Young, S.L. (2013) Soil consumed by
chacma baboons is low in bioavailable iron and high in clay. Journal of Chemical Ecology. 39(3),
447–449. doi:10.1007/s10886-013- 0258-3
8.Patil, C. R., Steinmetz, A.R,* Abrams, E.T. and Young, S.L. (2012) Appetite sensations and nausea and
vomiting of pregnancy: An overview of the explanations. Ecology of Food and Nutrition. 51(5), 394–417.
9. Weiser, S.D., Young, S.L., Cohen, C.R., Tsai, A.C., Tien, P.C., Hatcher, A.M., Frongillo, E.A.,
Bangsberg, D.R. (2011) Conceptual framework for understanding the bidirectional links between food
insecurity and HIV/AIDS. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 94(6) 1729S-1739S.
10.Young, S.L., Mbuya, M.M., Chantry, C.J., Geubbels, E., Israel-Ballard, K., Cohan, D. Latham, M.
(2011) Current knowledge and future research on infant feeding in the context of HIV: basic, clinical,
behavioral and programmatic perspectives. Advances in Nutrition 2:225-243.
11.Young, S.L., Sherman, P.W., Lucks, J, Pelto, G. (2011) Why do people eat earth? A test of alternative
hypotheses. Quarterly Review of Biology 86(2):97-120.
12.Young, S.L. (2010) Pica in Pregnancy: New Ideas About An Old Condition. Annual Review of Nutrition
30: 403-422.