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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). 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 relatively 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 more targeted disease prediction and prevention.


This project will use data from two large prospective cohort studies, The Malaysia Cohort (TMC) of 100,000 adults (including participants of Malay, Indian and Chinese origin), and the Indian Study of Healthy Ageing (ISHA), currently comprising 40,000 adults from Barshi in Maharashtra, with on-going recruitment of a further 160,000 participants from multiple regions of India.

Both studies include 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 data are being collected among subsets of 6000 TMC participants and 10,000 ISHA participants. These imaging data will enable detailed characterisation of body composition, including quantification and distribution of adipose tissue. Follow-up for health events is underway in both studies, providing information on both fatal and non-fatal disease events. 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 these two large prospective studies, in combination with findings from 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 to inform global non-communicable disease control and prevention efforts.


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. This project may involve international travel to the collaborating centres.


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

  • Jennifer Carter
    Jennifer Carter

    Associate Course Director, MSc Global Health Science and Epidemiology, Senior Research Fellow, CTSU