Andrea Wiley

Andrea Wiley

Professor, Anthropology

Department Chair


  • Ph.D., Medical Anthropology, University of California-Berkeley, 1992
  • M.A., Demography and Anthropology, University of California-Berkeley, 1986
  • B.A., Biological Bases of Behavior (cum laude), University of Pennsylvania, 1984

Geographical areas of specialization
South Asia; particularly India

Research Interests
human diet and nutrition and the adaptive significance of human dietary behavior; medical anthropology; biocultural perspectives and theory; biological normalcy – how population biology and ideas about “normal” human biology are related; human adaptability, particularly to stressful environments such as high altitude; demography; life history theory

About Andrea Wiley

I have always had interdisciplinary interests and as an undergraduate I struggled to find a major that was a good fit for me–I was intrigued by everything from medieval history to animal behavior! I ended up in a major that combined anthropology, psychology and biology, which eventually led me to pursue a PhD in medical anthropology, exploring both the biological and cultural dimensions of human health (see also my textbook: Medical Anthropology: A biocultural approach 4th edition Oxford University Press, 2021). I am interested in how biology affects culture, how culturally patterned behavior affects biology, and how these forces interact over time, and my current work develops the concept of biological normalcy.  Biological normalcy considers how population biology (that is, the distribution of a trait in a population) is related to ideas people have about what is “normal” human biology.  I ask how the observation of phenotypic variability (or lack thereof) influences cultural norms about biology, and then how those norms have the potential to influence population biology (for example, by privileging the health and well-being of some over others). I make extensive use of an evolutionary perspective in both my research and teaching, which means that I consider how biology and behavior can be considered adaptive. I apply this approach to problems related to health, disease, demography, diet and nutrition, and human social behavior. My main area of current research broadly concerns human diet and nutrition; my earlier work focused on maternal-infant health in the high-altitude Himalaya.

Diet and Nutrition

My current work is on the relationship between milk consumption and child health in the United States and in India. I am interested in testing widespread claims that milk enhances child growth, particularly in height. I have also worked on the relationship between milk consumption and age at menarche, milk consumption and how it affects children who grow particularly rapidly, and I am more broadly concerned with the relationship between milk consumption and life history parameters. That is, milk is designed to facilitate the growth and survival of juveniles within a particular mammalian species, yet cow's milk is now widely consumed by individuals of all ages. Thus the question is how this food affects human biology when consumed after infancy. I am interested in the U.S. and India because both are major producers of milk and both have cultural and/or religious traditions that privilege milk, yet the context in which milk is promoted is very different. It is also the case that there is variation in the digestive physiology necessary to consume milk after infancy, yet milk is increasingly consumed in populations with little or no history of milk consumption. How milk has become a globalized food and how this relates to population variation in milk digestion capacity is one aspect of this complex topic. I have published two books on milk: Re-Imagining Milk (2nd edition, Routledge Press, 2016) and Cultures of Milk (Harvard University Press, 2014).

Listen to two podcasts featuring Andrea Wiley on Human Biology Association's "Sausage of Science" series.

Listen to Episode 12 Listen to Episode 13

Maternal-infant health and high altitude adaptation

My earlier work focused on maternal and infant health within the ecological and cultural context of the Tibetan plateau of the high altitude Himalaya in India, where I conducted long term research. I was particularly concerned with how both the ecological challenges inherent to this environment (e.g., hypoxia) as well as culturally prescribed patterns of behavior affect maternal and infant health. In addition, I am interested in how very high rates of infant death can be understood and have implications for emotional development (i.e., attachment) and household kinship relations. This work is summarized and detailed in my book, An Ecology of High Altitude Infancy: A Biocultural Perspective (Cambridge University Press, 2004)

Selected Publications


Wiley, Andrea S. and John S. Allen (2017) Medical Anthropology: A Biocultural Perspective. 3rd edition. Oxford University Press.; 2nd edition 2013; First edition, 2008.

Wiley, Andrea S. (2016) Re-imagining Milk. 2nd edition. New York: Routledge Press. (First edition, 2011).

Wiley, Andrea S. (2014) Cultures of Milk: The Biology and Culture of Dairy Consumption in India and the United States Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Wiley, Andrea S. (2004) An Ecology of High-altitude Infancy: A Biocultural Perspective. New York: Cambridge University Press. (Cambridge Series in Medical Anthropology)

Articles/Book Chapters

Wiley, Andrea S. (2020)  Lactose Intolerance: Evolutionary Considerations.  Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health, doi:10.1093/emph/eoaa006 

Wiley, Andrea S. and Jennifer M. Cullin (2020)  Biological Normalcy.  Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health 

Wiley, Andrea S.  (2018) The Evolution of Lactase Persistence:   Milk Consumption, Insulin-like Growth Factor I, and Human Life History Parameters. The Quarterly Review of Biology 93(4): 319-345.

Fernandez, Catalina and Andrea S. Wiley  (2017) Rethinking the starch digestion hypothesis for AMY1 copy number variation in humans.  American Journal of Physical Anthropology 163

Wiley, Andrea S. (2017) Growing a Nation:  Milk consumption in India since The Raj In Making Milk: The Past, Present, and Future of Our Primary Food.  Mathilde Cohen and Yoriko Otomo, eds.  Pp 41-59.  London:  Bloomsbury Press.

Wiley, Andrea S. (2017)  Dietary Analyses in Nutritional Anthropology.  In Research Methods in the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition. Vol.1 Janet Chrzan and John Brett, eds.   Pp. 79-91. Oxford, UK:  Berghahn Press.

Wiley, Andrea S. and Jennifer Cullin (2016) What do Anthropologists Mean When They use the Term “Biocultural”?  American Anthropologist 118(3):554-569.

Wiley, A.S., H.G. Lubree, S.M. Joshi, D.S. Bhat, L.V. Ramdas, A.S. Rao, N.V. Thuse, V.U. Deshpande, C.S. Yajnik (2015)  Cord IGF-I concentrations in Indian newborns:  associations with neonatal bod composition and maternal determinants. Pediatric Obesity  doi:10/1111/ijpo.12038

Wiley, Andrea S.  (2015) Just Milk?: Nutritional Anthropology and the Single Food Approach.  In Teaching Food in Anthropology: Experiences, Challenges, and Techniques. Candice Lowe Swift -and Richard Wilk, eds. Pp. 77-96.   Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.

Wiley, Andrea S. (2012)  Cow’s milk consumption and human biology: A life history approach. American Journal of Human Biology 24(2):130-138.

Wiley, Andrea S. (2011)  Cow’s milk consumption and age at menarche:  evidence from NHANES 1999-2004 PLoS ONE 6(2): e14685. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0014685.

Wiley, Andrea S. (2011)  Milk for “growth”: global and local meanings of milk consumption in China, India, and the U.S.  Food and Foodways 19(1):11-33.

Wiley, Andrea S. (2004) “Drink milk for fitness:” the cultural politics of human biological variation and milk consumption in the United States.  American Anthropologist106(3):506-517.  Reprinted in Nutritional Anthropology, 2nd edition. Darna Dufour, Alan Goodman, Gretel Pelto, eds. Oxford University Press, 2013.

Wiley, Andrea S. and Leslie Carlin  (1999)  Demographic contexts and the adaptive role of infant attachment behavior: A hypothesis.  Human Nature 10(2):135-161.

Wiley, Andrea S. and Pike, Ivy (1998)  An alternative method for assessing early mortality in contemporary populations.  American Journal of Physical Anthropology 107:315-330.

Wiley, Andrea S. (1998)  The ecology of low natural fertility in Ladakh.  Journal of Biosocial Science  30(4):457-480.

Wiley, Andrea S. and Katz, Solomon H.  (1998)  Geophagy in pregnancy:  A test of an hypothesis. Current Anthropology 39(4):532-545.

Wiley, Andrea S.  (1994)  Birthweight, infant mortality, and high altitude adaptation in the Himalaya. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 94:289-305.

Wiley, Andrea S.  (1992)  Adaptation and the Biocultural Paradigm in Medical Anthropology: A Critical Review.  Medical Anthropology Quarterly  (n.s.) 6:216-236.