Barry Popkin developed the concept of the Nutrition Transition,76,80,75, the study of the dynamic shifts in dietary intake and physical activity patterns and trends and obesity and other nutrition-related noncommunicable diseases. His research program focuses globally on understanding the shifts in stages of the transition and programs and policies to improve the population health linked with this transition. Rapid socioeconomic, demographic, and technological changes, often linked with increasing globalization239, are explained by a vast array of shifts in our way of living and doing commerce. These shifts have led to an ever-increasing rate of change of dietary, activity, body composition and noncommicable disease patterns around the world. The pace of dietary and physical activity changes has accelerated to varying degrees in different regions of the world.
In earlier research he documented in a variety of studies the critical role of declines in physical activity356,146,167,265,252,347 and introduction of new technology as key factors and more recently much of his work has focused on the food system462,468,. This includes introducing complex measurement of physical activity in all sectors of activity in the early 1990’s so in Russia and China and later in Cebu, his cohort studies could monitor activity dynamics356,59,150,172,188,283,413.
He has also been a leader in attempting to understand critical issues related to the sweetening of the global diet474,197,259,279,382,476, the way new technology introduced edible oil as a major factor in food system shifts104,343, and many other food-related issues.
The food system468 and ways to regulate and enhance the quality of diets is the focus of much of his work today. A big focus has been to understand the agricultural transition and the linkages to the retail sector and food service sector and the way these ultimately affect our diet462,419.
This research program is focused on examining the patterns of change in dietary and physical activity patterns and nutritional status and health and exploring their relationships with economic, social, demographic, and health factors It includes a number of cohort studies, some started by Popkin with others and now run by others like the Cebu Longitudinal Health and Nutrition Survey and others he continues to lead from the US side (like the China Health and Nutrition Survey and the Russia Longitudinal Monitoring Survey).
The Nutrition Transition Program of UNC-CH, housed at the Carolina Population Center, couples these longitudinal surveys and studies with ecological and other cross-sectional research. The goal is to further our understanding of the patterns, determinants, consequences, and program and policy options for dealing with the transition. Emphasis is placed on countries and large populations undergoing shifts in nutritional patterns and the associated health consequences that include increased nutrition-related non-communicable diseases (NR-NCD). We use “nutrition” rather than diet, so the term NR-NCD incorporates the effects of physical activity and body composition rather than solely focusing on dietary patterns and their effects.