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Global Obesity Prevention Center

The Summer Institute of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health


Course Title:
Complex Systems and Obesity in Human Populations

Course Number: 340.738.11

Dates: June 29th - July 3rd, 2015


Thomas A. Glass, PhD, Professor, Department of Epidemiology, Course Director,

Course Description:

Introduce students to tools of theory building and data analysis in systems science to understand the obesity epidemic in human populations. Taught as seminar with emphasis on reading and discussion of key papers; also a mini-lab component in which students will build a simple model of food acquisition behavior using agent-based modeling on standard software (Vensim, PLE). Key aim is to examine the obesity epidemic at a population level as an emergent properties of complex, nested systems, with attention to feedback processes, sensitivity to initial conditions, and complex temporal dynamics. Will explore how approach can be applied to other non-communicable diseases both nationally and internationally. Topics : a) the epidemiology of obesity across time and place, b) theories for population obesity, c) basic concepts and tools of systems science, d) modeling biology in context, e) agent-based and systems dynamic models, f) use of systems tools for evaluation of policy.

Learning Objectives:


Enrollment in the Summer Institute of Epidemiology and Biostatistics and a) either Social Epidemiology (340.628) or equivalent course taken elsewhere and b) Intro to Epi of Diabetes and Obesity (340.644) or equivalent taken elsewhere. 

Course Restrictions:

Maximum enrollment is 25 students.

Student Evaluation:

For details on this and other Summer Institute courses, please contact the academic coordinator, Ayesha Kahn or see here