People: Spotlight

Morgan Hoke
Research Associate
Morgan Hoke is a Biological Anthropologist new to Penn, but already making her mark. In 2018 a new laboratory under her direction will be completed in the Penn Museum. The laboratory for Human Biology and Biocultural Research will be 400 square feet of Biosafety Level 2 certified wet-lab space and enables scientists to analyze biomarker data including human blood and saliva. When asked what brought Morgan to Penn she responded, “Research brought me here.” She has studied public and global health, political economies of health, and the ways in which social, economic and health inequalities are transmitted across generations. In 2016, Hoke wrote a paper titled "Economic Activity and Patterns of Infant Growth in a High Altitude District of Peru" in the American Journal of Human Biology which is a result of a project looking at the effects of early nutrition and risk factors for diseases later in life particularly obesity. Hoke was specifically interested in infancy because it represents a critical period when rapid growth and metabolic programming occur, making infants particularly vulnerable to long-lasting biological changes due to such transitions.

"Research brought me here." - Morgan Hoke

From 2014 to 2015 Hoke spent over a year conducting nutritional and anthropological research in the district Nuñoa in the highlands of central Peru. Nuñoa, Peru has been a long time study site since the 1960s and has experienced major development over the years. Recently there has been a dramatic increase in dairy production in response to a growing market for pizza which is reshaping the regional economy. As the foods people consume change they bring with them dietary, economic, and health effects.

While dairying has been a boon for some, other families in Hoke’s study site have continued their long-standing practice of alpaca herding or have become involved in other opportunities for wage work in the urban sector of Nuñoa. As such, three distinct economic zones have formed in the Nuñoa district: herding zone, urban zone, and dairying zone. Hoke compared infant length, weight, body mass indexes of about 100 children ages 2 to 24 months within these three zones to see if there is a relationship at all between economic activity, nutritional transitions, and infant health. With the increase in economic growth, Nuñoa proved to be an interesting study environment and population. Hoke motorcycled through the mountains, lived with her subjects, and often observed doctors and nurses in the local health clinic to better understand level of care and the community. She also fed and played with some of her subjects on occasion; " Interacting with babies was definitely a rewarding experience,” said Hoke.

Hoke has already brought her expertise to the classroom this fall wrapping up a course in Evolutionary Medicines. Her Spring 2018 course lineup includes Being Human, an introductory course on human biology, and Nutritional Anthropology both of which will surely draw on her research experience. She graduated cum laude with a Bachelor in Anthropology in 2008 from Columbia University and earned her PhD and MPH in 2017 from Northwestern University. The PSC is excited to have Hoke as a new addition to the Penn and Population Science community.