340.738.11 | AY 2013-2014 - Summer Inst. Term | 2 Credit(s)
MTWThF 1:30:00 PM
  • 'Letter to Your Students'

    We welcome you to the 2013 version of the course website for Complex Systems and Obesity in Human Populations (340.738.11).  Please review the materials on the website prior to the first day of class.  It is important that students get a start on reading materials for the course and come to class on monday having read all required readings for that day.  This course is offered only in the Summer Institute of Epidemiology and Biostatistics.  The course is also a core training activity of the Johns Hopkins Global Center on Childhood Obesity.  We look forward to meeting your all on Monday, June 24 at 1:30 PM in room W3031.

  • Course Description

    Systems science has been instrumental in breaking new scientific ground in diverse fields such as meteorology, engineering and decision analysis.   However, it is just beginning to impact public health.   This seminar is designed to introduce students to basic tools of theory building and data analysis in systems science and to apply those tools to better understand the obesity epidemic in human populations.   The course will be taught as a seminar with emphasis placed on careful reading and discussion of key papers.   There will also be a lab in which students will use a simple demonstration model of food acquisition behavior using agent-based modeling on standard (free) software (netlogo).   The central organizing idea of the course is to examine the obesity epidemic at a population level as an emergent properties of complex, nested systems, with attention to feedback processes, multilevel interactions, and the phenomenon of emergence.   While the emphasis will be on obesity, the goal will be to explore ways in which the systems approach can be applied to other non-communicable diseases both nationally and internationally.  

  • Course Learning Objectives

    Upon successfully completing this course, students will be able to:

    • Summarize current knowledge on the epidemiology of obesity across the life course and in different countries
    • Review and critique major explanatory frameworks on the obesity epidemic including cultural factors, pricing and economic factors, globalization of food production, advertising and media, and environmental determinants.
    • Characterize food production and delivery systems
    • Review potential use of agent based models for evaluation of potential policy solutions to combat obesity
  • Intended Audience
    JHSPH students and Summer Institute participants
  • Methods of Assessment
    Lab write up and a final exam
  • Organization

    The course will be taught as a combination of lectures, group discussion and an in-class lab. Careful reading of assigned papers is essential.  Students will be required to complete one lab assignment that will require access to a working computer (see note below on lab).  This will include a brief, free online tutorial that students will complete outside of class in preparation for the lab.  There will be a 40-minute exam comprised of short-answer and multiple choice questions drawn from lectures and readings given on Friday.  Finally, all students will be expected to participate in seminar discussions in class.  Lack of participation will be reflected in the final grade. 

  • Lab sessions


    This course will include lab sessions on Tuesday and Thursday after the day’s introductory lecture.  The purpose of these labs is to gain hands-on experience with system dynamics models and agent-based models with applications to obesity. Students should plan to bring their laptop to class on Tuesday and Thursday.  Both MAC and PC will work.  Instructions will be provided on Monday and on course plus (in the LAB folder). We will provide you with all the tools you need to explore a few system dynamics and agent-based models.  You will find an online zip file on course plus (in the LAB folder) that you should download to your laptop before Tuesday.  The LAB sessions will be real-time working sessions on Tuesday and Thursday.

    Students will need to download and install 2 free software programs.  They are: VENSIM (PLE version 6.1) and NetLogo (version 5.0.4).  Students should download these free software programs before Tuesday at the following sites:

  • Required Text(s)

    No textbook will be used in this class.  Instead, required readings for each class session are posted as downloadable .pdf files and available on the Courseplus website for this course.  To find papers, go to the Class Materials & Resources tab, then click on ONLINE LIBRARY.  Papers are grouped in folders by day (Monday-Friday and Lab).  Most of the optional readings listed on the syllabus are also available in the online library.  Students will be provided with access to software and data needed to conduct the lab assignment.  Students will however be expected to have access to a computer.    

    Students who are interested in this topic, may be interested in the following texts:

    Power, ML and Schulkin, J 2009. The Evolution of Obesity. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

    Hamid, TKA 2009. Thinking in Circles About Obesity: Applying Systems Thinking to Weight Management. New York: Springer.

    Meadows, DH 2008. Thinking in Systems: A Primer. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing.

    All students are expected to have read all required readings before class (including and especially the first day).   Also, due to heavy demand for printing resources, all students who wish to have hard copies are requested to print copies of papers from the website prior to arrival on campus.

  • Course Schedule

    Please see the course Session for a full list of dates and items for this course.

  • Contact Information
    Thomas Glass
    Tak Igusa
    Manuel Franco
  • Grading Policy

    Student evaluation will be based on three factors and given the following weights:

    1.     The quality and quantity of in-class participation


    2.     Final exam score


    3.     Evaluation of 1 lab report; due the Monday after the course ends



  • Academic Ethics Code

    Students enrolled in the Bloomberg School of Public Health of The Johns Hopkins University assume an obligation to conduct themselves in a manner appropriate to the University's mission as an institution of higher education. A student is obligated to refrain from acts which he or she knows, or under the circumstances has reason to know, impair the academic integrity of the University. Violations of academic integrity include, but are not limited to: cheating; plagiarism; knowingly furnishing false information to any agent of the University for inclusion in the academic record; violation of the rights and welfare of animal or human subjects in research; and misconduct as a member of either School or University committees or recognized groups or organizations.

  • Disability Support Services
    If you are a student with a documented disability who requires an academic accommodation, please contact the Office of Student Life Services at 410-955-3034 or via email at