The Johns Hopkins Gazette: May 5, 2003
May 5, 2003
VOL. 32, NO. 33


Behavior and Health: New at SPH

Department is funded by anonymous gift of $20 million

By Tim Parsons
School of Public Health

Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health announced on Friday that it will establish a new department to study human behavior and health. It is a unique interdisciplinary approach dedicated to directly identifying why people behave the way they do and how to most effectively change these behaviors to dramatically improve health. The department will develop new ways to prevent behaviors that are associated with the leading causes of illness and premature death in the United States and other parts of the world.

The School of Public Health will create its new Department of Behavior and Health with a $20 million gift from a donor who does not wish to be identified.

Scott Zeger, chair of the Department of Biostatistics and of the school committee that recommended the creation of the new department, said, "Smoking, sedentary lifestyle- and diet-caused obesity, avoidable injuries, substance abuse and risky sexual behavior are the root causes of more than half of all deaths and hospitalizations in the United States.

"When we target ways to prevent infectious disease, we study the vectors that spread the illness and develop vaccines and medications for treatment," he said. "When the target is disease and death-causing behaviors, the tools and methods are less developed, which is what we will research and create in this new department."

The Department of Behavior and Health will take new approaches to behavioral intervention programs by focusing on the social context of change. Research and development of new interventions will involve individual and systems changes that promote healthier lifestyles through education, regulation, legislation and social policies.

Alfred Sommer, dean of the School of Public Health, said, "We now understand that interventions that target the individual alone are inadequate. For example, by themselves education programs had only a limited impact on smoking, but when [they were] combined with high taxes on cigarettes and regulations restricting smoking in public buildings, smoking was dramatically reduced in the United States."

The Department of Behavior and Health will draw upon the school's strengths in the social and behavioral sciences, communications, marketing and other core public health tools to establish a multidisciplinary research program of health-related behaviors and to develop interventions to promote health and prevent disease.

The department also will create a doctoral degree program to train new leaders in the field.

"Many of today's public health risks can be vastly reduced by changes in behavior," Sommer said. "With the creation of the Department of Behavior and Health, we are in a unique position to lead this critical field of research and develop new interventions to improve health around the world."

With this gift to the new Department of Behavior and Health, commitments to the Johns Hopkins Knowledge for the World campaign total more than $988 million and are 49 percent of the $2 billion goal. To date, $238 million has been donated to the School of Public Health. Priorities of the fund-raising campaign, which benefits both The Johns Hopkins University and The Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System, include strengthening endowment for student aid and faculty support; advancing research, academic and clinical initiatives; and building and upgrading facilities on all campuses. The campaign began in July 2000 and is scheduled to end in 2007.