Human Biology, Health and Society



Cristina Padez (CIAS)

Grounded in high-quality science, this group performs valuable research of contemporary societies. With background in anthropology, biology, geography, sport sciences, and nutrition, this group form an interdisciplinary team. Together, they propel research toward new and improved approaches to study the influence of social, economic, and political forces in patterns of health and disease, particularly in children, from a biocultural perspective.

Our research is conducted in multiple contexts, but mostly in Portugal, Latin America (especially Brazil), and other Portuguese speaking countries (e.g., Guinea-Bissau). Portugal experienced strong socio-political and economic changes with major improvements in the population’s standard of living during the 20th century, mainly after the 1960s and 1970s. This was particularly visible in terms of nutritional quality and in the health care delivery system, which still have major impacts on human health and well-being. During the 21st century, other societal events took place such as the economic crisis of 2010-2014, the migration crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, and now the indirect effects of the Ukrainian war. All these recent circumstances have had a strong impact on the health and well-being of global populations with the poorest being most affected.

Some of the main research lines of this group include:

  1. Biocultural approaches to childhood obesity: the role of political, social, and economic changes in Portugal during the last century
  2. Sex and gender in childhood obesity and lifestyle behaviors
  3. Impact of inequalities and inequities in childhood obesity, dietary behaviors, sedentary behaviors, and physical activity
  4. Screen media use and children’s developmental vulnerability in social, emotional, cognitive, and physical domains
  5. The digital transformation of our society: using sensors and apps to study young adults’ lifestyles and health outcomes
  6. How families cope with the lasting societal problems brought by the COVID-19 pandemic and the war of Ukraine alongside with the current financial problems arising from these events. Analysis of its impact on children’s health and development
  7. Health outcomes of the social, economic, and political changes in Portugal between the 19th and 21st centuries: secular changes in stature and age at menarche

These concerns and approaches are, whenever possible, articulated with other research groups within the CIAS (e.g., Genetics group) and other institutions (e.g., other national and international I&D units, Coimbra University Hospital), thus making it possible to address multiple topics that are meaningful towards science, social intervention, and policy considerations.

Research clusters

Genes, Populations and Diseases

Past Cultures and Populations

Human Biology, Health and Society

Technoscience, Society and Environment