Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, Northwestern University
Adjunct Curator, The Field Museum of Natural History

Email: sera.young(at)

Phone: 847-467-2174
Office: 1819 Hinman Ave., First Floor


Ph.D. Nutritional Anthropology. Cornell University
M.A. Medical Anthropology. University of Amsterdam
B.A. Anthropology. University of Michigan



My group and I focus on the reduction of maternal and child undernutrition in the first 1000 days, especially in low-resource settings. Methodologically, I draw on my 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.



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.

Household-level water insecurity. What dimensions/experiences of water insecurity are universal?  How can we best measure these?  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 long-term 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.

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 are 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.



Google Scholar page

  1. Jepson, W., Budds, J., Eichelberger, L., Harris, L., Norman, E., O’Reilly, K., Pearson, A., Shah, S., Shinn, J., Staddon, C., Stoler, J., Wutich, A., & Young, S.L. (2017). Advancing human capabilities for water security: A relational approach. Water Security. doi: 10.1016/j.wasec.2017.07.001
  2. Widen, E.M., Collins, S.M., Khan, H., Biribawa, C., Acidri, D., Achoko, W., Achola, H., Ghosh, S., Griffiths, J.K., & Young, S.L. (2017). Food insecurity, but not HIV-infection status, is associated with adverse changes in body composition during lactation in Ugandan women of mixed HIV status. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. doi: 10.394/ajcn.116.142513
  3. Casal, C. S., Lei, A., Young, S.L., Tuthill, E. (2017). A Critical Review of Instruments Measuring Breastfeeding Attitudes, Knowledge, and Social Support. Journal of Human Lactation. 33(1): 21-47. doi: 10.1177/0890334416677029
  4. Krumdieck, N., Collins, S., Wekesa, P., Mbullo, P., Boateng, G., Onono, M., Young, S.L. (2016). Household water insecurity is associated with a range of negative consequences among pregnant Kenyan women of mixed HIV status. Journal of Water and Health. doi: 10.2166/wh.2016.079
  5. Seim, G., Tako, E., Ahn, C., Glahn, R., Young, S.L. (2016). A Novel in Vivo Model for Assessing the Impact of Geophagic Earth on Iron Status. Nutrients. doi: 10.3390/nu8060362
  6. Williams, A., Chantry, C., Geubbels, E., Ramaiya, A., Shemdoe, A. Tancredi, D., Young, SL. (2016). Breastfeeding and Complementary Feeding Practices among HIV-Exposed Infants in Coastal Tanzania. Public Health Nutrition. 32(1), 112–122. doi: 10.1177/0890334415618412
  7. 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. doi: 10.1007/s10461-014- 0947-0
  8. Young, S. L., Plenty, A., Luwedde, F., Natamba, B., Natureeba, P., Achan, J., et al. (2014). Household food insecurity, maternal nutritional status, and infant feeding practices among HIV-infected Ugandan women receiving combination antiretroviral therapy. Maternal and Child Health. 18(9):2044-53. doi: 10.1007/s10995-014-1450-y
  9. Seim, G.L., Ahn, C.I., Bodis, M.S., Luwedde, F., Miller, D., Tako, E., Glahn, R., Young, S.L. (2013). Bioavailability of iron in geophagic earths and clay minerals, and their effect on dietary iron absorption using an in vitro digestion/Caco-2 cell model. Food and Function. 4(8), 1263–1270. doi: 10.1039/c3fo30380b
  10. 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. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.111.012070