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Non-communicable diseases are one of the major public health challenges globally. Considerable within and between region heterogeneity exists in the prevalence and burden of these conditions (e.g., type 2 diabetes, ischaemic heart disease, stroke, cancers), which remains incompletely understood. Ethnic differences in typical patterns of adiposity—one of the major modifiable risk factors for non-communicable diseases—are thought to contribute to this variation. For example, the tendency towards higher percentage body fat for a given body mass index and the greater propensity for central adiposity among Asian populations are suggested to explain their high prevalence of type 2 diabetes. However, many aspects of these differences in body composition and their relevance for disease risk remain incompletely understood. Detailed body composition phenotyping and characterisation of associations with disease risks, including direct comparisons between populations, are needed to fill these evidence gaps. Insights gained from such investigations would be expected to improve understanding of the aetiology of non-communicable diseases and inform effective disease prediction and prevention.


This project will use data from the Malaysia Cohort Study of 106,000 adults (including participants of Malay, Indian and Chinese origin). The study includes extensive participant data on sociodemographic, lifestyle and medical characteristics, physical measurements (including weight, height and waist and hip circumferences) and bioelectrical impedance analysis. In addition, DXA imaging is being undertaken among a subset of 6000 participants, providing detailed body composition measurements, including quantification and distribution of adipose tissue, among the different ethnic groups included in the study. Follow-up for mortality is underway. In combination, these data will enable uniquely robust and detailed characterisation of body composition patterns among diverse ethnic groups. This will subsequently be used to examine how various anthropometric measures and body composition patterns relate to risks and burden of different non-communicable diseases. Using data from this large prospective study, in combination with findings from the China Kadoorie Biobank and UK Biobank will provide unique opportunity for comparisons within and between ethnic groups in different geographical locations, and for novel insights into disease risks and aetiology.


Training in advanced statistics, epidemiological methods, programming, and scientific writing will be provided. Attendance at seminars, workshops and courses provided by the Department and University will also be encouraged. There will be opportunity to present research work at relevant international/national conferences.

Prospective candidate

Candidates should have a strong background in a statistical, biomedical or life sciences discipline. Previous postgraduate training or experience in epidemiology and/or medical statistics is essential.


  • Sarah Lewington
    Sarah Lewington

    Professor of Epidemiology and Medical Statistics, Director of Graduate Studies (Taught courses)

  • Fiona Bragg
    Fiona Bragg

    Clinical Research Fellow