Professor James trained in science and medicine before organizing public health/nutrition teaching at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He wrote the DH/MRC Obesity Research report, the first RCP Obesity report in 1983, and chaired/wrote the first SIGN guidelines on obesity management in 1996, establishing the use of waist circumference measures.
He chaired the first WHO European and global expert technical reports on modern nutrition approaches to malnutrition and the non-communicable diseases. He also organized the WHO Special Expert Technical Consultation on obesity and then assessed its global burden, and developed the current UN approach to estimating individual and population food needs and the UN Millennium report on Nutrition for the UN Secretary General in 2000.
He developed the original approach to distinguishing children’s stunting and wasting, the current adult BMI criteria for underweight and overweight, and the current lithium tracer method of assessing the sources of salt intake for policy use. Under Prime Minister Tony Blair, he devised the blueprint for the UK Food Standards Agency, and he advised EU President Delors on establishing DG SANCO and EFSA, as well as developing the practical programme to combat spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).
He established the International Obesity Task Force and chaired/wrote the UK report on preventing childhood obesity in 1997 for Tessa Jowell, the first Minister of Public Health. He then established the programme and offices for both the International Association for the Study of Obesity (now the World Obesity Federation) and the European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO). He is now a key advisor on nutritional aspects of public health initiatives for the WHO Middle East and Europe regions, covering 75 countries, having recently helped develop, with the late Professor Aubrey Sheiham, the criteria for limiting national sugar intakes to well below 5 per cent for preventing lifelong dental caries.