Health Behavior

MPH alum Greg Millett (second from left) discusses the White House's National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which he co-wrote, with President Obama and other HIV/AIDS policy experts. Our alumni network spans the country. Read More
For Prospective Students
Message from the Chair
January 14, 2016 We are happy to report that Dr. Jo Anne Earp is recovering quickly from the surgery she had in December. The surgery was a success. She has returned to work one day a week and was in the office just yesterday. Read more
Leslie Lytle, PhD
Professor and Chair

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 

This degree offers students the core education and practical experience they need to be successful public health professionals.   MPH program  |  MPH practicum  |  MPH Capstone  | Apply

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 our students, alumni, and faculty

Research highlights

January 2016

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.

Nisha Gottfredson

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.

Click here to see the full list publications for January and access abstracts.


Alumni highlight

Edna Davis-Brown, MPH in health behavior

Edna Davis-Brown, MPH

“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.

Mrs. 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, MPH in Health Behavior.


From our MPH students

 Arts-based, multiple component, peer-education (AMP!)

HB AMP! Student Team 2015

AMP! Student Team: Joel Mercado Blanco, Katie Byerly, Joy Martin and Steffani Bangel (MPH candidates)

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

Brooke Nezami

Brooke Nezami

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.


Sarah Kowitt

Sarah Kowitt

Sarah Kowitt and Tamara Taggart, health behavior students, Linden Thayer, nutrition student, and Alexandra Lightfoot EdD, research assistant professor, conducted a pilot study in which teens and adults were given cameras and asked to take pictures showing community concerns about heart health.  They recruited African-American participants from a rural, low-income community in North Carolina – part of the “stroke belt” that runs through the southeastern United States.” Read the Article published by the CDC


Hannah Lerner, doctoral student

Hannah Lerner

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.

Read more about Hannah in Carolina Public Health.

Faculty innovation

Featured faculty (from Carolina Public Health Magazine, December 2015)

Dr. Kate Muessig

Dr. Kate Muessig

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.


Dr. Deborah Tate

Dr. Deborah Tate

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.


Dr. Christine Rini

Dr. Christine Rini

Mobile and pain controlChristine 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.

Read more about mHealth at UNC-Gillings in Carolina Public Health Magazine

Recent faculty awards

Wizdom Powell, Phd associate professor health behavior

Dr. Wizdom Powell

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. 


Dr. Lightfoot

Dr. Lightfoot

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.



News and Events

Hillary Murphy, Master of Public Health student. “An Unexpected path for practicum experience.” Read her blog

Alexandra Lightfoot, EdD, research assistant professor wins Tom Bruce Award. Read More

Noel Brewer, PhD, associate professor, and colleagues publish findings about physicians and HPV vaccine.  Read More

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.

Read Other Featured News

Read Updates from Alumni

What our Students Say

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.


Basic Information


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.

Community-Engaged Scholarship 

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.

MPH practicum  –   Health Behavior Capstone

Our doctoral students learn research skills from renowned faculty

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.

Our MSPH-to-PhD students develop core and research skills

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.

MPH/MCRP dual-degree

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.

Read about our history


Interested in a degree or program? Fill out a Prospective Student Inquiry Form