David Phillips graduated in medicine from the University of Cambridge. After obtaining an MSc in Epidemiology from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine in 1981, he was a Wellcome Research Fellow at the University of Southampton from 1981-85. He spent a year in North Kivu, Zaire as Field Director for the MRC/Oxfam programme of research into iodine deficiency in the following year. On his return to Britain, he was Lecturer in Endocrinology and Honorary Senior Registrar in General Medicine, Diabetes and Endocrinology at University of Wales College of Medicine. He joined the MRC Environmental Epidemiology Unit in 1991.
His main research interest is in the mechanisms of endocrine and metabolic programming. Persisting changes in the set-point of major endocrine axes appear to be one mechanism by which events in early life influence the risk of diabetes and other metabolic disorders. Recent evidence from animal studies and preliminary evidence in humans have suggested that altered hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis activity plays an important part. Currently his group is studying the way in which low birth weight is linked with altered (HPA) axis function and how this in turn is linked with metabolic disease. The group has access to several unique studies of men and women with details of their birth records and also has clinical and laboratory facilities for detailed studies of these men and women.