Nutritional Epi

These guidelines are provided to supplement those published in the Harvard School of Public Health Official Register and Information for Doctoral Students.

Learning Objectives

  • To acquire detailed knowledge regarding the biological basis of nutrition and the mechanisms by which diet can influence health. This includes a basic understanding of metabolism, physiology, and molecular genetics.
  • To develop quantitative skills required for the evaluation of diet and disease relationships in epidemiologic studies.
  • To attain skills in developing research proposals for the study of diet and disease.  This requires the integration of knowledge about human nutrition with epidemiologic concepts.
  • To develop skills in the oral and written communication of scientific information.

Program Description

The Nutritional Epidemiology program provides rigorous training in epidemiology and biostatistics as well as the biological aspects of nutrition. The overall objective is to enable students to investigate relationships between diet and disease. The program includes the following components:

  1. Formal course work
  2. Practical research project
  3. Seminars
  4. A thesis research project


Students admitted to this program are required to have a general back­ground in the biological sciences. Admission to this program does not imply acceptance into other programs within the Department of Nutrition. Successful completion of program requirements leads to a D.Sc. degree (or Dr.P.H. degree for those with an M.D. or other professional doctoral degree).

General Admission

The School requires that all doctoral students complete at least 40 academic credits distributed over one major (20 credits) and two minor fields (10 credits each). A minimum of two academic years of full-time residence is required.  All students are required to take a full year of Epidemiology and Biostatistics.

Students with advanced standing (such as those already holding an advanced degree) may have certain course requirements waived if equivalent courses have been completed.  Waiver petitions must be approved by the faculty advisor, the department faculty, and the Committee on Admis­sions and Degrees (CAD).  

Requirements for the Nutritional Epidemiology Program

Formal course work (Years 1 and 2).  The major field of study will be Nutrition. In addition, all students will select Epidemiology as one of the two minor fields.  The second minor field will be chosen in consultation with the faculty advisor; usually the choice will be Biostatistics.  The following epidemiology courses will count toward the 20 credit units required in Nutrition since they cover the basic principles of Nutritional Epidemiology: EPI 201, 202, 203, 204.  The following sequence of courses is suggested:

Year Term Course Description Credits
1 I (Fall) *EPI 201 Epidemiology 2.5
*EPI 202 Elements of Epidemiologic Research 2.5
*BIO 201 Introduction to Statistical Methods 5.0
*NUT 201 Principles of Nutrition 2.5
*NUT 203 Nutrition Seminar 1.25
*NUT 209 Seminars in Food Science and Technology (alternate years)   2.5
1 II (Spr) *EPI 203 Design of Case-Control and Cohort Studies 2.5
*EPI 204 Analysis of Case-Control and Cohort Studies 2.5
*BIO 210 The Analysis of Rates and Proportions 5.0
*ID 214 Nutritional Epidemiology 2.5
*NUT 202 The Science of Human Nutrition 5.0
NUT 350 Nutrition Research
*ID 512 (formerly NUT 204) Molecular Basis of Nutritional and Metabolic Diseases   2.5
2 I (Fall) ID 209 Nutrition in Child Growth and Development 2.5
EPI 205 Practice of Epidemiology 2.5
NUT 350 Nutrition Research
*ID 221 Advanced Nutritional Epidemiology (alternate yrs) 2.5
*NUT 205 Advanced Topics in Nutrition (Part 2) 2.5
2 II (Spr) NUT 210 Nutritional Problems in Less-Developed Countries 2.5
NUT 220 Molecular Biology Laboratory Techniques 2.5
NUT 350 Nutrition Research
Epidemiology Topics (choose 1 or 2 most relevant)
EPI 212 Epidemiology of Cardiovascular Diseases 1.25
EPI 213 Epidemiology of Cancer 1.25
EPI 222 Genetic Epidemiology of Diabetes and Its Complications 2.5
Biostatistics Topics (choose 1)
BIO 211 Regression and Analysis of Variance in Experimental Research 5.0
BIO 233 Methods II 5.0
3 II (Spr) ID 206 Scientific Writing in Nutrition and Epidemiology 2.5


†to be arranged

In addition to the above, a course in human physiology (CMP 210) and/or pathology is recom­mended for students without training in the health professions or similar courses.

Practical research project.  In addition to formal thesis research projects, students will be required to analyze and report the findings of a small or medium sized data set. This should generally be done under the supervision of a faculty member other than the primary thesis supervisor. The intent is to provide additional practical experience in nutritional epidemiology. Research credits (NUT 350) can be received for this activity.

Seminars.  Attendance at the Human Nutrition and Nutritional Epidemiology Seminars is mandatory. These are held on Mondays and focus on applied areas of Nutrition, work-in-progress presentations, or presentations by invited speakers.

Program Administration

Selection of advisors.  Students will initially be assigned a faculty advisor from among the faculty in the Nutritional Epidemiology program. Advisors will meet with students on a regular basis and give progress reports each term to the faculty. When a thesis topic is identified, a new advisor knowledgeable about the research area may be assigned if agreed upon by both the student and faculty member.

Departmental Oral Comprehensive Examination

The following guidelines will be used for this examination:

a.  The Departmental Oral Comprehensive Examination tests the student’s general knowledge in the major field of nutrition and in minor fields.  In addition, the student will be questioned on topics related to his/her research experienc­es and/or future research plans.  Although a formal research proposal is not required for this examination, the examiners will test the student’s ability to do doctoral-level research by asking him/her to formu­late research ap­proaches to the thesis research problem he/she has selected.  The overall objective of this examination is to ascertain if the student is qualified to continue in the doctoral program and to determine whether he/she is ready for the School qualifying examination.  The latter is normally taken shortly after the Departmental Examination.

b.  Students entering the doctoral program without prior graduate study will normal­ly take the Departmental Examination during their third or fourth term.  Students who have previous­ly completed a Master’s Degree in Nutrition are usually expected to take the Departmental Oral Examination at the end of the first year of their doctoral pro­gram.  In all cases, this examination must be taken no later than two months before the doctoral program deadline for the School’s oral qualifying examination.

c.  The Examining Committee shall be composed of three members of the departmental faculty. The student’s advisor can be present for the examination, not as an examiner or judge but as an observer. The advisor will leave the ultimate decision of pass/fail to the members of the examination committee.

d.  Faculty members will be invited to express an opinion about the student’s abilities to the Committee before the examination.

e.  Prior to the examination, the Committee shall meet to discuss the areas of questioning for the examination. The advisor will procure the student’s file and transcript from the Registrar’s Office to familiarize the Committee with the student’s background and academic performance.

f.   The examination shall be open to all faculty of the Department of Nutrition. The student shall initiate the meeting by summarizing current research activi­ties for a maximum of 10 minutes.

g.  The Examining Committee will prepare a formal evaluation of the student’s performance after the examination.

Doctoral Qualifying Examination.  This examination is described in the School of Public Health document, “Sudent Handbook.”  The examin­ation must be taken no later than the end of the fourth term of study and will focus on the student’s proposed thesis research.

Doctoral Research Committee.  The thesis advisor, in consultation with the student and with the approval of the Department Chairperson, will nominate a research committee to oversee the student’s progress.  The committee will consist of the thesis advisor (chairperson) and at least two other faculty members.  These faculty members normally will have served as members of the stu­dent’s doctoral qualifying exam committee.

Doctoral thesis.  With the concurrence of the student’s Doctoral Research Committee, the completed thesis must be presented to the Department Chair for viewing by the department as a whole at least four weeks before being submitted to the Registrar’s Office.

Financial Aid

The faculty of the department have developed the following guidelines for fellowship awards for doctoral students:

Tuition support during the academic year (September-May) will be provided, when available, for a maximum of five years. The department will not assume responsibility for payment of tuition for courses taken during the summer.

Stipend support, for first and second year students, when offered, will be based on availability, merit, and/or financial need.  After the first two years, every effort will be made to provide stipend support for doctoral students in Nutritional Epidemiology for the duration of their studies through faculty research grants and/or departmen­tal funds. Students who do not receive financial support from the department and who can demonstrate financial need may be eligible for school grants administered by the Financial Aid Office.

Fellowship awards are subject to the following restrictions:

a.  The awarding of tuition and stipend will follow the contingencies specified in the official letter of acceptance from the Director of Admissions of the Harvard School of Public Health.

b.  Fellowship support will be forfeited if funds are received from another source.

c.  Students must be full-time in the department and maintain good academic standing.

d.  Students must demonstrate satisfactory performance in research.

Nutritional Epidemiology Faculty

A. ASCHERIO, M.D., Dr.P.H., Associate Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology.  Relations of dietary factors to the occurrence of human disease; development of methods to study these associations in developing countries.

     Selected reference: Ascherio A., Zhang SM, Hernan MA, Olek MJ, Coplan PM, Brodovicz K, Walker AM. Hepatitis B vaccination and the risk of multiple sclerosis. N Engl J Med 344, 2001.

L. CHEUNG, D.Sc., R.D., Lecturer in Nutrition.  Mass media and school-based efforts in promoting good nutrition practices and physical fitness; nutritional and fitness concerns of childhood and adolescence.

Selected reference: Impact of a school-based interdisciplinary intervention on diet and physical activity among urban primary school children: Eat Well and Keep MovingArch. Pediatr. Adolesc. Med., in press, 1999.  With Gortmaker et al.

W.W. FAWZI, M.D., M.P.H., Dr. P.H., Associate Professor of International Nutrition.  Etiologies of infectious diseases with emphasis on dietary and nutritional causes; relationships of dietary factors to disease in pregnancy and childhood.

Selected reference: Fawzi WW, Msamanga GI, Spiegelman D, et al. Randomized trial of effects of vitamin supplements on pregnancy outcomes and T cell counts in HIV-1 infected women in Tanzania. Lancet 1998; 351:1477-82.

M. GILLMAN, M.D., S.M., Associate Professor of Ambulatory Care and Prevention, Harvard Medical School/Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. Nutritional epidemiology: relationships of dietary factors with occurrence of chronic conditions such as obesity and cardiovascular disease, early life prevention of adult chronic disease, disease prevention in defined populations, clinical epidemiology.

Selected reference: Gillman MW, Rifas-Shiman SL, Frazier AL, Rockett HRH, Camargo CA, Jr, Field AE, Berkey CS, Colditz GA. Family dinner and diet quality among older children and adolescents. Arch Fam Med 2000;9:235-240.

E. GIOVANNUCCI, M.D., D.Sc., Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology.  Study of diet and occurrence of cancers, particularly of the colon and prostate.

     Selected reference: Giovannucci E, Stampfer MJ, Colditz GA, Hunter DJ, Fuchs C, Rosner BA, Speizer FE, Willett WC.  Multivitamin use, folate, and colon cancer in women in the Nurses’ Health Study.  Ann Int Med 129:517-524, 1998.

F.B. HU, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., Associate Professor of Nutrition.  Epidemiology of cardiovascular disease, particularly dietary factors, dietary patterns, and physical activity in general and high-risk populations (i.e. diabetics).