The state of evolutionary medicine in undergraduate education

Daniel Z. Grunspan, Karla T. Moeller, Randolph M. Nesse, Sara E. Brownell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background and objectives: Undergraduate courses that include evolutionary medicine (EM) are increasingly available, but quantified data about such courses are lacking. In this article, we describe relevant course offerings by institution and department type, in conjunction with information on the backgrounds and experiences of associated instructors. Methodology: We searched course catalogs from 196 American universities to find courses that include EM, and sent a survey to 101 EM instructors to ask about their backgrounds and teaching experiences. Results: Research-focused universities (R1) were much more likely to offer at least one course that covers evolutionary applications to health and disease than universities that granted only bachelor's or master's degrees. A survey course on EM was offered in 56% of 116 R1 universities, but only 2% of the 80 non-R1 universities we searched. Most EM instructors have backgrounds in anthropology or biology; each instructor's area of expertise provides clues as to how continued growth of EM may occur differently by discipline. Conclusions and implications: Undergraduates are most likely to learn about EM in research-intensive universities from an anthropological or biological perspective. Responses from anthropology and biology instructors, including whom they share course materials with, highlight that courses may differ depending on the discipline in which they are taught. LAY SUMMARY: Recognition of evolution's relevance to understanding health and disease is growing, but documentation of coverage in undergraduate education is lacking. This study explores where evolutionary medicine (EM) content is taught across 196 undergraduate institutions and how 53 instructors describe their experiences teaching EM.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)82-92
Number of pages11
JournalEvolution, Medicine and Public Health
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 21 2019


  • education
  • evolution and medicine
  • instruction
  • survey
  • undergraduate courses
  • undergraduate education

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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