Walter C. Willett, MD, MPH, DPH

Academic Coordinator
Amelia Marsh

Department Website

The mission of the department is to improve human health through enhanced nutrition. It strives to accomplish this goal through research aimed at an increased understanding of how diet influences health, the dissemination of new knowledge about nutrition to health professionals and the public, the development of nutritional strategies, and the education of researchers and practitioners.

The department provides training and research opportunities in basic science relating to nutrition and in epidemiologic aspects of nutrition as they affect public health. Nutrition policy and the evaluation of nutritional interventions are long-standing interests of the department, particularly as they concern the populations of Latin America, Africa, Asia, and the United States. Department research ranges from molecular biology to human studies of cancer and heart disease, including the conduct of population-based intervention trials. Students learn and use the latest techniques in biochemistry, physiology, biostatistics, epidemiology, and related fields. All research, whether basic or applied, is relevant to human health.

Current research covers a wide range of topics, including large prospective studies of dietary factors in relation to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and ophthalmologic disease; development of methods to assess nutritional status by analysis of body tissue; the interaction of nutritional factors with genetic determinants of disease; the interaction of nutritional factors and infectious agents; nutritional influence on blood pressure; effects of nutrition programs on the mental and physical consequences of malnutrition; nutritional determinants of blood lipid factors; lipoprotein metabolism; molecular mechanisms of diabetes and obesity; regulation of the intra- and inter-cellular delivery of macromolecular nutrients; and the molecular mechanism leading to atherosclerosis and thrombosis.

Degree Programs in Nutrition
The department offers the SD in nutrition, and the PhD in nutritional biochemistry/cardiovascular biology. No master’s degree programs are available.

Program Prerequisites and Requirements
All departmental degree requirements are in addition to the schoolwide degree requirements.

SD in Nutrition
Minimum prerequisites for entrance, SD program: Bachelor’s degree or non-U.S. equivalent. Applicants must have a strong background in biology and mathematics. An MD or other professional health-related degree is desirable but not required.

Program requirements, SD program: A concentration in one of the three areas listed below. Each concentration provides rigorous training in epidemiology and biostatistics as well as in the biological aspects of nutrition.

Nutritional epidemiology concentration: The overall objective of the nutritional epidemiology concentration is to enable students to investigate relationships between diet and disease. One of the two required minors must be in epidemiology.

Public health nutrition concentration: This concentration trains students in nutrition and social and behavioral sciences, along with qualitative and quantitative methods; and the application of these skills to the development, evaluation, and dissemination of nutrition-related programs and policies to support population health. In addition to required coursework in public health nutrition, students must complete one minor in quantitative methods (biostatistics, epidemiology, social and behavioral methods) and one minor in a relevant field (for example, maternal and child health, obesity epidemiology, public health leadership). Students may pursue a dual program with the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences. Applicants apply to one department initially. Contact the Department of Nutrition for more information.

Nutritional biochemistry concentration: Described under the PhD program, see below.

Students may pursue a joint program with the Department of Epidemiology. Admission requires the approval of both departments, and applicants should contact the Department of Nutrition before making formal application. Students in such a joint program must satisfy the major requirements of both departments, complete a minor acceptable to both, and write a dissertation on a topic concerning both nutrition and epidemiology.

For the SD and PhD programs, funding may be available through the NIH-supported Training Program in Nutritional Science for students with previous doctoral degrees.

Graduates are prepared for careers as research scientists in academic institutions, private-sector organizations, and public health agencies in state, national, and international settings. Recent graduates have taken positions at universities, research foundations, pharmaceutical companies, the National Cancer Institute, and the American Cancer Society.

PhD in Biological Sciences in Public Health (Nutritional Biochemistry/ Cardiovascular Biology)

The department’s PhD program is run through the HSPH Division of Biological Sciences, an umbrella organization comprising several of the school’s departments. Prospective students should apply to the PhD program in the Division of Biological Sciences. Application is through the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

The PhD program in nutritional biochemistry offers rigorous training in biochemistry, cell biology, and metabolism, allowing students to work toward solving nutritional and metabolic problems in the laboratory. Students in cardiovascular biology learn to use cutting-edge technologies from molecular biology, biochemistry, and genetics to critically dissect the mechanisms underlying cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attacks, strokes, heart failure, atherosclerosis, and congenital heart disease.

Related Offerings

Contact Information
Amelia Marsh
Academic Coordinator
Department of Nutrition
655 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
Phone: 617-432-6993
Fax: 617-432-2435

For Reference
Schoolwide degree requirements for the SD program

Online application to the PhD program in the Division of Biological Sciences is required. Use the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences online application form, available at: application_instructions_and_information.php.