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William Leonard

Director and Professor, Global Health Studies

PhD Michigan 1987
Geographic Regions: South America (Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador), Russia (Siberia), and the US

Topics of Expertise: Nutritional assessment, growth and development, energetics, physical activity, metabolic health, human adaptability

Research and Teaching Interests

Biological anthropology, adaptability, growth and development, nutrition, energy metabolism, South America, Asia, United States


William R. Leonard is the Abraham Harris Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology, and the Director of the Global Health Studies Program at Northwestern University. Dr. Leonard received his bachelor’s degree in Biology from the Pennsylvania State University, and his Master’s and PhD in Biological Anthropology from the University of Michigan. He has done extensive research on aspects of nutritional health, energy metabolism, and child growth and development among human populations around the world. He has conducted research among indigenous agricultural populations of highland and lowland regions of South America (Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru), and among traditional herding populations of Siberia. His research has shown how both environmental (e.g., altitude, cold, heat) and social factors (e.g., poverty) shape human biology and health. Additionally, his work has explored how the transition to a “modern” (Western) diet and lifestyle influences the development of chronic health problems. Leonard’s work has also drawn on information from human and primate ecology to develop models for examining the evolution of nutritional requirements in our hominin ancestors. These models have provided important insights into the origins of obesity and metabolic diseases among modern human societies. Dr. Leonard has published widely in the leading journals of biological anthropology, human biology, public health, and nutritional science. His work has been supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research and the National Geographic Society.

Global Health Courses Taught

  • Introcution to International Public Health
  • Nutritional Anthropology

Recent Publications

  • Undurraga, E. A., Behrman, J. R., Leonard, W. R., & Godoy, R. A. (2016). The effects of community income inequality on health: Evidence from a randomized control trial in the Bolivian Amazon. Social Science and Medicine, 149, 66-75. DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2015.12.003
  • Streeter, E. A., Squires, E. C., Leonard, W. R., Tarskaia, L. A., Klimova, T. M., Fedorova, V. I., ... Snodgrass, J. J. (2015). Adiponectin, hemoglobin, and cardiovascular risk in an indigenous siberian population. American Journal of Human Biology. DOI: 10.1002/ajhb.22808
  • Wilson, H. J., Leonard, W. R., Tarskaia, L. A., Klimova, T. M., Krivoshapkin, V. G., & Snodgrass, J. J. (2015). Do physical activity and sedentary behavior relate to cardio-metabolic risk factor clustering in indigenous Siberian adults? American Journal of Human Biology, 27(2), 149-156. DOI: 10.1002/ajhb.22625
  • Wilson, H. J., Klimova, T. M., Knuston, K. L., Fedorova, V. I., Fedorov, A., Yegorovna, B. M., & Leonard, W. R. (2015). Socio-demographic predictors of sleep complaints in indigenous Siberians with a mixed economy. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 157(4), 641-647. DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.22761
  • Leonard, W. R., Reyes-García, V., Tanner, S., Rosinger, A., Schultz, A., Vadez, V., ... Godoy, R. (2015). The Tsimane' Amazonian Panel Study (TAPS): Nine years (2002-2010) of annual data available to the public. Economics and Human Biology, 19, 51-61. DOI: 10.1016/j.ehb.2015.07.004
  • Hicks, K., & Leonard, W. R. (2014). Developmental systems and inequality: Linking evolutionary and political-economic theory in biological anthropology. Current Anthropology, 55(5), 523-550. DOI: 10.1086/678055