Daniel Sellen

Daniel Sellen directs The Joannah and Brian Lawson Centre for Child Nutrition at the University of Toronto, and he is Professor of Anthropology, Nutritional Sciences, Global Health and Social & Behavioral Health Sciences in the Faculties of Arts & Science, Medicine, and the Dalla Lana School of Public Health. Trained in human ecology, evolutionary demography, and international nutrition, he currently leads global health research aimed at innovation and testing of interventions to improve maternal, infant, and child nutrition security in vulnerable populations. With almost 30 years of experience leading cross-disciplinary studies of child and family nutrition security, Professor Sellen has initiated or collaborated on research in a range of vulnerable communities in more than a dozen countries, including nomads in Tanzania; rural and urban low income families in Guatemala, Mexico, and Kenya; families living with HIV in Ghana and Kenya; adolescent mothers in Bangladesh; resettled refugees in Britain and America; and low-income newcomers in Canada.

He has contributed to more than 70 original research articles published in peer-reviewed scientific journals and books, and more than 280 invited lectures and presentations at academic institutions, organizations, and scientific conferences.

During the early 1990s, Professor Sellen conducted innovative studies of the social, ecological, and micro-economic determinants of maternal infant feeding intentions, decisions and practices; and consequences for young child growth in rural, semi-nomadic, communities subsisting in the semi-arid lands of central Tanzania. This work revealed strong associations of maternal, infant and child food security, diet and nutritional status with intra-household social factors—particularly maternal co-wife status—independent of seasonal and household wealth effects. The findings continue to inform efforts to strengthen food security among livestock herders in arid regions.

During the late 1990s, Professor Sellen’s research exposed a high level of child hunger and food insecurity among African and other refugees resettled in Britain and America at a time when few unbiased data were available to make fair policy decisions. Similar perspectives, methods, and approaches have been taken up and enhanced by trainees and colleagues who are today among the leaders in this field. Professor Sellen’s theoretical work on reconstructing past human practices has measured links between livelihood, infant feeding practices, and demographic patterns across small-scale societies (e.g., hunter-gatherers and nomadic herders), and supported student research on the earliest origins of human infant care inferred from studies of close primate relatives.
Professor Sellen’s research recently shifted to a focus on implementation science that uses randomized intervention trials and mixed methods to test the impact pathways and effectiveness of nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive MNCH interventions implemented by major governments and/or/with NGOs, with a focus on mHealth (application of smart phones and cell phone communications, counselling and patient data capture, and client tracking). He has provided leadership to international teams assessing the usefulness of cell phones to provide vulnerable women with pre-and post-partum counselling to support healthy breastfeeding, smart phones to improve community health worker outreach to pregnant women, and support to improve postnatal health system access and utilization and care of infants and “integrated” programs to enhance maternal and child health and nutrition.