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Sera Young

College positions:
Visiting Fellow
Northwestern University

Professor Sera Young

Professor Young’s current research is focused on quantifying human experiences with problems with water, and unpacking their consequences for nutrition, health, and well-being 

Sera Young is an Associate Professor of Anthropology and Global Health Studies at Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois. She has dedicated her career to understanding how mothers, especially in low-resource settings, cope to preserve their health and that of their families. Methodologically, she draws on her training in medical anthropology (MA, University of Amsterdam) and international nutrition (PhD, Cornell University) to take a biocultural approach to improving maternal and child health.

Professor Young’s current research is focused on quantifying human experiences with problems with water, and unpacking their consequences for nutrition, health, and well-being ( High-resolution, globally comparable, gender-disaggregated data have been helpful in other sectors, e.g. the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization’s Food Insecurity Experiences Scale. However, experiential data have not existed for water. To fill this gap, Dr. Young led a large multi-disciplinary team to develop the first cross-culturally equivalent way of measuring water access and use at the household and individual levels. The Water Insecurity Experiences Scales have been used by 100+ organizations in at least 50 countries. She has co-authored more than 140 peer-reviewed publications; awards include the Margaret Mead Award for her book, Craving Earth, an Andrew Carnegie Fellowship, and a Leverhulme Visiting Professorship.

Professor Young is accompanied by her husband, Professor Julius Lucks, who is an expert in Synthetic Biology and visiting fellow at Churchill College and visiting researcher at DAMTP, Cambridge University and MRC LMB (

Select publications

  • Young SL, Bethancourt HJ^, Frongillo EA, Viviani S, Cafiero C. (2023) Adults experiencing water insecurity are more likely to experience food insecurity in nationally representative samples of 25 low-and middle-income countries. Bulletin WHO.
  • Young SL, Bethancourt HJ^, Ritter ZR, Frongillo EA. (2022) Estimating national, demographic, and socioeconomic disparities in water insecurity experiences in low- and middle-income countries in 2020-2021: a cross-sectional, observational study, using nationally representative data. Lancet Planetary Health.
  • Mao F, Miller JD**, Young SL, Krause S, Hannah DM, HWISE-RCN. (2022) Inequality of household water security follows a Development Kuznets Curve. Nature Commun. 2022 Aug 8;13(1):4525.
  • Wutich, A, Rosinger AY, Brewis A, Beresford M, Young SL, Household Water Insecurity Experiences-Research Coordination Network. (2022) Water sharing is a distressing form of reciprocity: Shame, upset, anger, and conflict over water in 20 cross-cultural sites. American Anthropologist.
  • Young SL. (2021) Viewpoint: The measurement of water access and use is key for more effective food and nutrition policy. Food Policy. Oct 1;104:102138
  • Santoso MV**, Bezner Kerr RN, Kassim N, Martin H, Mtinda E, Njau P, Young, SL. (2021) A Nutrition-Sensitive Agroecology Intervention in Rural Tanzania Increases Children’s Dietary Diversity and Household Food Security But Does Not Change Child Anthropometry: Results from a Cluster-Randomized Trial. The Journal of Nutrition July;151(7): 2010–2021. *Selected as Editor’s Choice by the journal Science
  • Young, S.L., Frongillo, E.A., Jamaluddine, Z., Melgar-Quiñonez, H., Pérez-Escamilla, R., Ringler, C., Rosinger, A. Y. (2021). The importance of water security for ensuring food security, good nutrition, and well-being. Advances in Nutrition. *Based on plenary session at Nutrition 2020
  • Young, S.L., Sherman, P.W., Lucks, J, Pelto, G. (2011). Why on earth?: Evaluating hypotheses about the physiological functions of human geophagy. Quarterly Review of Biology. 86(2):97-120. doi: 10.1086/659884

Select Awards

  • Leverhulme Visiting Professor– 2023. “Water insecurity: bringing a human voice to a global crisis” at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
  • Norman Kretchmer Memorial Award in Nutrition and Development from the American Society for Nutrition — 2022. In recognition of a substantial body of independent research in the field of nutrition and development with potential relevance to improving child health.
  • Carnegie Foundation :: “A New Way to Think About Water: Household Water Insecurity” — Sera Young 2019.
  • Margaret Mead Award :: American Anthropological Association and the Society for Applied Anthropology — 2013. In recognition of exemplary skills in broadening the impact of anthropology.

Further links