About Us

Background and Development of Concentration

Obesity has become a major public health challenge worldwide. In parallel with the rising obesity epidemic, the number of epidemiologic studies on consequences and determinants of obesity has grown exponentially. Meanwhile, the prevention and control of obesity has become a major public health priority for chronic disease prevention. Our school and the surrounding Harvard institutions in the Longwood Medical Area have one of the major concentrations of obesity researchers in the world. Scientists at HSPH have documented the rise of the obesity epidemic, provided a fundamental understanding of the epidemiology of obesity and the causes of energy imbalance, and developed and tested a wide variety of effective intervention strategies ranging from clinical interventions to community-based programs.

Program Directors

Frank Hu 

Steve Gortmaker

Obesity epidemiology is an emerging field that uses epidemiologic approaches to examine the causes and consequences of obesity in human populations (Hu Obesity Epidemiology, Oxford University Press 2008). It includes the study of multiple broad, interrelated domains: (1) the distributions, patterns, and dynamics of obesity in populations; (2) health and other consequences of obesity; (3) the determinants or causes of obesity; (4) the development and validation of body composition measurement methods used in epidemiologic studies. Knowledge gained is eventually applied to public health initiatives to prevent and control obesity and related health conditions. One of the insights that have emerged from our obesity work is the critical need for innovative interdisciplinary epidemiology and prevention. The problem of chronic energy imbalance in societies throughout the world is best seen from a broad social ecological perspective. One of these insights of social epidemiology is the need to focus prevention far “up-stream” in the causal pathways of disease, so we are not treating obesity but rather focused on early prevention. Early prevention thus also implicitly has a strong focus on early life environments.


The mission of the Obesity Epidemiology and Prevention Concentration is two-fold: (a) provide training on the theoretical, methodological, and applied knowledge and skills necessary to prepare students to conduct obesity related epidemiologic and prevention research; and (b) train international students and scholars who can apply knowledge and skills at HSPH to obesity research in international settings.

Program Overview

The concentration is designed to build on a strong base of ongoing research, teaching and training in obesity epidemiology and prevention at HSPH.  This is an interdisciplinary concentration and currently it includes six participating departments: Epidemiology, Nutrition, Social and Behavioral Sciences, Global Health and Population, Environmental Health and Health Policy and Management. We also host a monthly Journal Club open to all members of the Harvard Chan community, in which we discuss recent articles relevant to obesity epidemiology and prevention.

The Program in Obesity Epidemiology and Prevention includes training in the following areas:

  • Assessment of obesity in populations and individuals
  • Biological and social determinants of obesity, including pathways of dietary intake and energy expenditure
  • Epidemiologic designs
  • Survey methods
  • Prevention trial designs
  • Statistical analysis
  • Evaluation of intervention effects
  • Nutritional epidemiology
  • Medical, societal, and economic consequences of obesity
  • Diabetes and CVD epidemiology
  • Gene and environment interactions and obesity and related chronic diseases

The Program in Obesity Epidemiology and Prevention was created to bring together faculty and resources across HSPH and the Longwood area to foster multidisciplinary collaborations in obesity epidemiology and prevention research, education, training, and public policy related work at HSPH. The Program is intended to stimulate transdisciplinary research synergy among scientists from a broad array of fields, including epidemiology, nutrition, basic science, social and behavioral sciences, economics, and public policy. In addition, the Program serves as the base for didactic training in obesity epidemiology and prevention across multiple departments at HSPH.

The concentration is designed to build on a strong base of ongoing research, teaching and training in obesity epidemiology and prevention at HSPH.

This interdisciplinary concentration currently includes the following participating departments:

Department of Nutrition 
Department of Epidemiology

Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences

Department of Global Health and Population
Department of Environmental Health
Department of Health Policy and Management