Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2014-2015 (archived)

Module ANTH42315: Evolutionary Perspectives on Western Diseases

Department: Anthropology

ANTH42315: Evolutionary Perspectives on Western Diseases

Type Open Level 4 Credits 15 Availability Available in 2014/15 Module Cap


  • None.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • The aims of this module are to examine why certain non-communicable diseases, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, allergies and mental health problems, have become common, first in affluent western populations and now, increasingly, worldwide. The module applies an evolutionary perspective because of its value in showing us why and how human bodies are vulnerable to these diseases.


  • As a group, western diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, allergies and mental health problems, constitute one of the major problems facing humans, particularly as they extend into the poorer countries of the world. At the heart of the evolutionary approach taken in this module is the notion that human evolution occurred in circumstances very different from the modern affluent western environment and that, as a consequence, human biology is not adapted to the contemporary western environment. Building on this core insight, the module examines theories about inherited genetic susceptibility to these diseases at the population level, as well as recent ideas about the developmental origins of health and disease.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Have a broad understanding of the evolutionary history of human disease
  • Understand and be able to explain how an evolutionary perspective can inform biomedical explanations of how the prevalence of a variety of western diseases has changed over time and varies across populations.
  • Be able to suggest ways in which an evolutionary perspective can inform ideas about the prevention of western diseases
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Be able to use appropriate terminology to describe chronological and geographical variation in the health of populations, especially in the prevalence of non-communicable diseases.
  • Be able to critically evaluate evolutionary explanations of historical and current patterns in the geographical prevalence of western diseases
  • Be able to synthesise evolutionary theory with contemporary understandings of western diseases
Key Skills:
  • Ability to engage in discussion and debate on theoretical and practical issues.
  • Ability to present verbal summaries of data and theoretical perspectives based on readings of primary academic literature
  • Ability to present written summaries of debates and argue for a particular perspective using research based evidence.
  • Ability to synthesize and integrate material across topics and apply cross-cutting theoretical perspectives.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • 8 seminars – some tutor led, some student led.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Poster Presentation 1 2 hours 2
Seminars 7 Weekly 1.5 hour 10.5
Preparation and Reading 137.5
Total 150

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 70%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 2000 words 100%
Component: Poster Component Weighting: 30%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Poster 400 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

Written feedback on Poster Essay Plan 400 words

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University