The Department of Health Behavior combines the social and behavioral sciences with health science to produce graduates who deliver practical research and interventions that improve the health of individuals and communities. Established in 1942, we were the first Department of Public Health Education created in the U.S.
Applications are now closed for all degrees. We look forward to reviewing the applications, and we wish everyone great future success.
MPH in Health Behavior
PhD in Health Behavior
The doctoral program prepares students to lead and conduct research based on strong methodology courses, and many student research opportunities. PhD Program | Faculty Research Interests | Recent Dissertations | Faculty Publications (2015) | Apply
Featured stories from students, alumni and faculty
These are a few of the fifteen articles published by faculty and students in January.
Suzanne Maman, Marta Mulawa (doctoral student)
Perpetration and Victimization of Intimate Partner Violence among Young Men and Women in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Mulawa M, Kajula LJ, Yamanis TJ, Balvanz P, Kilonzo MN, Maman S.
Kate Muessig, Emily Mangone (former UNC Gillings student)
Mobile Phone Apps for the Prevention of Unintended Pregnancy: A Systematic Review and Content Analysis. Mangone ER, Lebrun V, Muessig KE. JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2016 Jan 19;4(1):e6.
Observed temperament from ages 6 to 36 months predicts parent- and teacher-reported attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms in first grade. Willoughby MT, Gottfredson NC, Stifter CA.
“The way I approach program development and evaluation planning is firmly rooted in what I learned in the health behavior MPH program.” — Ingrid Morris
As a healthcare developer at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC), Morris leads a company-wide health literacy strategy. She explained why this work is so important in a blog posted in 2015. “Health information is all around us, yet many people struggle to understand what they need to do to improve their health. Low health literacy is a big issue, both in our state and nationally. At BCBSNC we’re changing how we communicate by using more plain language.” Morris is recognized as a leader and committed to being a positive force for change in her community. Read more about Ingrid Morris.
“Explore the world of possibilities because public health is in everything we do . . . I wasn’t sure how I was going to apply what I learned, and then it all fell in place. I was appreciative of my training, and I applied it all.” —Edna Davis-Brown.
Davis-Brown is passionate about engaging with the public on issues that affect health. Today, she works directly with community groups in cities and towns across the nation. Her clients are everywhere, from California to New Jersey, and her work ranges from working directly with community partners to evaluating national programs. Yet, she finds time to engage with the rural community in North Carolina where she was raised. Read more about Edna Davis-Brown.
From our MPH students
Arts-based, multiple component, peer-education (AMP!)
Featured Capstone team (MPH)
The AMP! Capstone team is conducting focus groups and interviews with parents, teachers, and youth in North Carolina to help inform the adaptation of an implementation strategy for AMP! 2.0.
AMP! is a theater-based sexual health education and STI/HIV prevention program originally developed by the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA)’s Art & Global Health Center (AGHC) as the AMP! model. AMP! provides young people with crucial sexual health information and HIV prevention strategies through theater-based performances and workshops. Read more about Capstone.
From our doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows
Jennifer L. Moss, PhD, has been selected to receive the Society of Behavioral Medicine’s Outstanding Dissertation Award for 2016. Moss is a 2015 graduate of the Department of Health Behavior at the Gillings School. Now a cancer prevention fellow with the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance Research Program, she conducts research on geographic disparities in cancer prevention behaviors.
“My dissertation examined human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination through a variety of lenses, including economics, health disparities, patient-provider interactions, health policies and improving preventive care,” Moss explains. “What I found is that we can improve HPV vaccination (and reduce infectious disease and cancer burden), but we have to think creatively about how and when to intervene.” Read more
Brooke Tompkins Nezami, doctoral candidate in health behavior, as part of her dissertation conducted an mHealth intervention study with mothers of preschool children. The “Smart Moms” intervention significantly reduced children’s consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages by 7.8 ounces per day (compared to a reduction of 0.7 ounces in the control group) and increasing maternal weight loss (2.3 percent loss, compared to a gain of 0.8 percent in the control group). The study won first place in a student research competition sponsored by the American Institute for Cancer Research and second place in the poster pitch competition.
Hannah Lerner studied biology with the aim of going to medical school, but after learning more about public health, she changed her mind.
I realized public health was a field in which I could have an impact before illness happens,” says Lerner. “As a physician, I could help people feel better, but I’m even more motivated to eliminate behaviors that cause illness in the first place.
In December 2015, Peers for Progress officially became part of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, based in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and UNC’s Department of Family Medicine. They have relaunched a website for researchers and program managers who are interested in peer support. According to Ed Fisher, PHD professor of health behavior, “Through our digital portal, they can access resources and models for program development and share findings that advance understanding of the role peer support can play in health interventions.” Read more
Featured faculty (from Carolina Public Health Magazine, December 2015)
Mobile peer support for HIV—Kate Muessig, assistant professor of health behavior is using mHealth designed for MSM in North Carolina and China. The use of Web- and cellphone-based platforms to build stronger social support among these young people offers a highly accessible and familiar medium for intervention.” Chen Zhang, master’s student in health behavior, spent a summer practicum working with Muessig and others on “Epic Allies,” a mobile game designed to assist young adults with HIV in adhering to their medicine regimens.
Mobile and obesity prevention—Deborah F. Tate, PhD, professor of health behavior and nutrition, pioneered use of electronic health (eHealth) interventions for weight loss, and her interventions now pair mobile device-delivered weight-loss tools with wireless scales and email. Doctoral work by Dori Steinberg, PhD, then Tate’s advisee, found that using only wireless scales and email helped participants, on average, lose more than 13 pounds. Steinberg won a Gillings Dissertation Award for the research, and she and Tate were among co- authors of findings published in Obesity in 2013.
Mobile and pain control—Christine Rini, PhD, research associate professor, works on a Web-based skills training program for coping with pain. “Providing the treatments is resource-intensive, usually requiring multiple in-person meetings with a trained clinician,” Rini says. “Online training expands access to the treatments.”The expanded access benefit of mHealth interventions makes scale-up possible in a way that could not have occurred previously.
Recent faculty awards
Wizdom Powell, PhD, associate professor of health behavior received one of four of UNC’s Phillip and Ruth Hettleman Prize for Artistic and Scholarly Achievement by Young Faculty for 2015. The Hettleman Prize, established in 1986, is awarded annually to four highly promising UNC faculty members. Dr. Powell is a trained population health disparities research scientist and clinical psychologist. She is recognized nationally for the impact of her work, which addresses the gender paradox. Read more.
Alexandra Lightfoot, EdD, received the 2015 Tom Bruce Award. The Community-Based Public Health (CBPH) Caucus, a subgroup within APHA, manages the award. It was established in 2006 to celebrate the work and legacy of Thomas Allen Bruce, MD, who is known as the “father of CBPH.” The award recognizes one individual per year who exemplifies leadership in the field.
Hillary Murphy, Master of Public Health student. “An Unexpected path for practicum experience.” Read her blog
Postdoctoral Training Opportunity with the Cancer Health Disparities Training Program in Health Behavior. The program is open to 1-3 doctoral trainees. Read More Applications due by January 29, 2016.
Health Behavior Resources for Current Students– See or download program handbooks and other essential resources here.
98% of health behavior graduates were highly satisfied with their experience in the Department of Health Behavior. (Exit Interview Data)
“The best thing about Health Behavior grads is that they can work on anything–strong capabilities across the board.” (Alumni Survey 2015)
“The overall curriculum and assignments are cohesive and strong.” (Alumni Survey 2015)
“The faculty is truly incredible, not only as academic researchers, but as instructors and mentors.” (Student Survey 2015)
“The Health Behavior program has given me an incredible amount of opportunities to work directly with community members on pressing public health problems.” Sarah Kowitt, doctoral student. Read about her recent research.
Sarah Treves-Kagan tells why she chose to study in the Department of Health Behavior at Gillings.
In our midst are social scientists, Peace Corps volunteers, clinicians, activists, educators, entrepreneurs and researchers. Our students come from across North Carolina and around the world and they range from millennial to mid-career.
Every MPH student completes a 240-hour-long summer practicum and a year-long capstone course built around a project in which students apply what they have learned in class. They work in groups with partners to meet partner’s needs. The capstone experience is unique among MPH programs, and the mentoring and relationships built with our partners through the practicum and capstone are highly valued by our students.
Doctoral students work with our remarkable faculty to design, conduct, analyze and publish research that pushes the field of public health forward. Our alumni lead research projects and guide the work of organizations that improve the health of individuals and communities through research, policy, health systems, advocacy, and service.
The MSPH-to-PhD program is designed for students with a bachelor’s degree who want to pursue a doctoral degree and career in research.
Students earn credentials in public health and City and Regional Planning. They learn to apply social and behavioral science methods to shape the social and physical environment in ways that promote public health, safety and livability in communities.