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William R. Leonard

Watkins Family Professor of Global Health

PhD Michigan 1987
Research and teaching interests

Biological Anthropology
; Growth and Development; Nutrition; South America; Asia; United States

Program in Global Health Studies - Northwestern Univeristy; Center for Global Health Education - Northwestenr University; American Journal of Human Biology

William Leonard is a biological anthropologist interested in human biology and adaptation to environmental and social stressors. He has done extensive research on aspects of human energy metabolism, nutritional health, and child growth among indigenous agricultural populations of highland and lowland regions of South America (Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru), and among indigenous populations of Siberia. This work has focused on how these populations adapt to their ecological and social circumstances, and how the transition to a “modern” diet and lifestyle influences their health and chronic disease risks. Dr. Leonard and colleagues have also explored how major trends in human evolution such as the origin of bipedality and the expansion of hominin brain sizes have shaped the energy and nutritional requirements of our species. His research has been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, and the Leakey Foundation.

Dr. Leonard is the Director of the Program in Global Health Studies and the Co-Director of the Center for Global Health Education in the Havey Institute for Global Health. He is currently the Editor-in-Chief of the American Journal of Human Biology. In 2021, Dr. Leonard was honored with the Franz Boas Distinguished Achievement Award from the Human Biology Association.

Recent Courses Taught

Anthropology 101: First-year Seminar: Biological Thought & Action

Global Health 390/Public Health 390: Introduction to International Health

Anthropology 401-1: Logic of Inquiry – Biological Anthropology

Anthropology 490: Human Population Biology

Selected Publications 

Levy SB, WR Leonard. (2022). The evolutionary significance of human brown adipose tissue: Integrating the timescales of adaptation. Evolutionary Anthropology 31:75-91.

Levy SB, Klimova TM, Zakharova RN, Fedorov AI, Fedorova VI, Baltakhinova ME, Bondy M, Atallah D, Thompson-Vasquez J, Dong K, Debertine A, Leonard WR. (2022). Brown adipose tissue thermogenesis among young adults in northeastern Siberia and Midwest United States and its relationship with other biological adaptations to cold climates. American Journal of Human Biology 34(5):e23723.

Wells JC, N Ling, JT Stock, H Buckley, WR Leonard. (2022). Metabolic diseases in bioarchaeology: an evolutionary medicine approach. In: KA Plomp, CA Roberts, S Elton, and GR Bentley (Editors): Palaeopathology and Evolutionary Medicine: An Integrated Approach. Oxford University Press, pp. 284-302.

Mulligan CJ, DM Boyer, TR Turner, E Delson, WR Leonard. (2022). Data sharing in biological anthropology. Yearbook of Biological Anthropology 178(Suppl. 74):26-53.

Galvin S, LC Neubauer, WR Leonard, A Doobay-Persaud. (2021). Reassessing global health education in the age of COVID-19. Academic Medicine 96(5):e20.

Levy SB, TM Klimova, RN Zakharova, AI Fedorov, VI Fedorova, ME Baltakhinova, WR Leonard. (2021). Evidence for a sensitive period of plasticity in brown adipose tissue during early childhood among indigenous Siberians. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 175:834-846.

Bauchet J, E Undurraga, A Zycherman, J Behrman, W Leonard, R Godoy. (2021). The effect of gender targeting of food transfers on child nutritional status: experimental evidence from the Bolivian amazon. Journal of Development Effectiveness 13:276-291.

Leonard WR. (2020). Human biologists confront the COVID-19 pandemic. American Journal of Human Biology 32(5):e23511.

Leonard WR. Centennial perspective on human adaptability. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 165:813-833.

Leonard WR, V Reyes-García, S Tanner, A Rosinger, A Schultz, V Vadez, R Zhang, R Godoy. (2015). The Tsimane’ Amazonian Panel Study (TAPS): Nine years (2002-2010) of annual data available to the public. Economics & Human Biology 19:51-61.