Health Behavior

Carmina Valle, PhD, research assistant professor of health behavior and member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, has been awarded a four-year, $2.2 million grant from the National Cancer Institute, titled “Promoting physical activity in young adult cancer survivors using mHealth and adaptive tailored feedback strategies.”

Message from the Chair
Congratulations to our wonderful students who will graduate this weekend. To the ones who are heading out for the summer, have a great one and we will see you in August. Leslie
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, UNC’s Department of Public Health Education was the first program of its kind in the United States. Read about our history.

Our Research

Our faculty and students are active researchers especially in the following areas:

-Community health
-Violence prevention
-Policy change
-HIV/AIDS prevention and control
-Health disparities reduction
-Health communication/
-Obesity and diabetes
-Tobacco control
-Workplace health promotion

Our Degree Programs

Master of Public Health (MPH) program

The master’s program offers students the core education and practical experience they need to become successful public health professionals. Master’s students earn one of two degrees: the Master of Public Health (MPH) or the Dual Master of Public Health and Master of City and Regional Planning (MPH-MCRP).

Tour the master’s program: Master’s Program  |  MPH Practicum  |  MPH Capstone  | Dual Degree MPH/MCRP Apply | Program Handbook

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) program

Doctoral programs prepare students to lead and conduct research by providing strong research methodology courses and many student research opportunities. Some students enter directly into the PhD program, others enter the master’s-to-doctoral program (MSPH-PhD) acquiring core public health and health behavior competencies and completing all the requirements for the doctorate.

Tour the doctoral program: Doctoral ProgramResearch | Recent Dissertations |MSPH-to-PhD | Apply | Program Handbook

We encourage prospective students to review the information about our programs here on the website, to check out the Health Behavior News from Gillings and the student news from our department’s e-newsletter: Spring 2016 and Fall 2016. If you need other information, use the Inquiry form.

Featured students and their work

Student’s poster on the affordable brace displayed at World Health Organization’s Global Forum on Medical Devices

Ryan Seguin, center, poses with Dean Rimer, his practicum adviser and Anna Schenck at Practicum Day, 2016.

Ryan Seguin (MPH, 2017), center, poses with Dean Rimer, Lauren Wall, his practicum adviser, and faculty member Anna Schenck at Practicum Day, 2016.

Ryan Seguin, who will complete the health behavior master’s program in May, is the co-author of a poster on MiracleFeet’s affordable clubfoot brace. The poster will be displayed at the World Health Organization’s 3rd Global Forum on Medical Devices in Geneva this week. The poster is a result of the practicum Ryan completed with his preceptor Lauren Wall, Senior Innovation Manager at MiracleFeet. Affordable, appropriate, available medical devices like the affordable brace are essential to achieving Universal Health Coverage, especially in low- and middle-income countries. And community partners like MiracleFeet are essential to the health behavior program at UNC.


Student-led nonprofit wins Kenan funding

Photo: Camille McGirt, MPH

Camille McGirt, MPH

The Kenan Charitable Trust grant will provide $25,000 per year for two years to help Healthy Girls Save the World complete its first extensive program evaluation and cover operating expenses for pilot after-school and expanded summer camp programs.

Camille McGirt, (MPH, 2017) is the director and co-founder of the program. She is from Durham, N.C. and is committed to her home community. After an internship in the Obama White House and working on health in the schools in Brooklyn, McGirt knew she wanted to give back and decided to start the nonprofit to help girls stay active and maintain healthy lifestyles.

After receiving the Master of Public Health in Health Behavior, McGirt will spend time working intensively with Healthy Girls and then will head D.C. where she will work with Booz Allen, in addition to continuing to lead the nonprofit. Read the story.

Health disparities: Colorectal cancer screening among African-Americans

Leslie Adams

Leslie Adams

Jennifer Richmond

Jennifer Richmond

Leslie B. Adams and Jennifer Richmond, doctoral students, and Wizdom Powell, PhD, associate professor are authors of an article in the Journal of Community Health. They explored the link between medical mistrust  and colorectal cancer  screening rates among African-Americans. The review also focused on gender differences related to medical mistrust and found key distinctions in themes of mistrust between African-American men and women.

“This review highlights the role that mistrust in providers and health-care systems plays in driving these outcomes, particularly in the African-American community,” said Adams, the study’s first author.  Giselle Corbie-Smith, MD, professor in the Department of Social Medicine in UNC’s School of Medicine was also a co-author of the article.

LGBTQ health: Research, policy and practice


May Chen, Dirk Davis and Willa Dong, doctoral students, pose beside their information table in the Armfield Atrium.

The LGBTQ Health Disparities Research Collaborative is a campus group formed to provide graduate students and faculty members at UNC-Chapel Hill with a space to engage in critical conversations about LGBTQ health. Health behavior doctoral students May Chen (MSPH) and Dirk Davis (MPH) are the group’s coordinators.

The collaborative organized several campus activities this week in conjunction with LBGTQ Health Awareness Week. The Department of Health Behavior and its faculty members applaud students like Dirk, May and Willa for their research, advocacy and activism on LGBTQ heath. This is one of the many ways our students and faculty continue to use their health behavior training to address health disparities.

Read the overview document

Global health: Deafness and disparity in maternity services in Cape Town

Waru Gichane

Waru Gichane, doctoral student

“‘They must understand we are people’: Pregnancy and maternity service use among signing deaf women in Cape Town.” Margaret W. (Waru) Gichane, MSPH, doctoral student of health behavior, is the lead author of this article published online April 6 by Disability and Health Journal examined the experiences of deaf women seeking maternity health-care services in Cape Town, South Africa found reports of linguistic barriers and mistreatment.

Gichane and her co-authors were curious whether deaf women’s access to maternity health care was being compromised by language barriers related to their disability.

When asked how to improve maternity services, the women resoundingly suggested increased access to interpretation services. More than 75 percent of study participants suggested that health-care facilities hire interpreters or require staff to receive training in basic sign language in order to improve communication. One participant stated, “They need to have interpreters. A child could die because [they] don’t understand.” Read More

Global health: Willa Dong heads to China this summer; six master’s students will complete the practicum in a global health setting

Photo: Willa Dong

Willa Dong, doctoral student

“I am looking forward to being mentored by a team with such extensive experience with communities disproportionately impacted by HIV,” says Willa Dong, whose dissertation research will focus on the mental health and HIV needs of transgender women in China. Willa, a health behavior doctoral student from Gaithersburg Maryland, has been engaged with sexual health including transgender health, STIs and HIV in China and in the U.S. since 2012.

This summer Willa will work as a research assistant with Dr. Joseph T.F. Lau, a professor in the Jockey Club School of Public Health and Primary Care at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Professor Lau is the founding president of the Hong Kong Society of Behavioral Health. He is a leading researcher in the field of HIV and STI prevention in greater China.

Willa’s adviser is Kate Muessig, PhD, assistant professor of health behavior.

Read more

Equity: Promoting equity in the Department of Health Behavior


Varsha Subramanyam, Willa Dong, Ashley Crawford, Waru Gichane and Ida Griesemer are health behavior students.

The Equity Collective, a student group in the Department of Health Behavior, has met bi-weekly this semester [spring 2017] to develop strategies to create a more equitable health behavior community.

The group’s mission is to work to create, promote and sustain equity in the Gillings School of Global Public Health’s Department of Health Behavior for the benefit of all prospective and current students, faculty and staff.

Read more


Da'Esha McPhaul, student services manager, greets students at an event in 2016.

Da'Esha McPhaul, student services manager, greets students at an event in 2016.

June 22: Information fair for prospective students at Gillings (1)

July 11: SOPHAS Virtual Fairs

July 27: Information fair for prospective students at Gillings (2)

October 6: Graduate Program Open House at Gillings

October 6: Annual Practicum Day Celebration

Gillings School Events Calendar

UNC Academic Calendars: 2016 – 2017 and 2017 -2018

The North Carolina Institute for Public Health hosts a poster session where students share research that impacts our state.

The North Carolina Institute for Public Health hosts a poster session where students share research that impacts our state.

Health Behavior Newsfeed – News about health behavior faculty and staff as it is posted by the Gillings School. Scroll to see older stories.

Gillings School Newsfeed – ALL the news from the Gillings School.

Subscribe to Health Behavior Matters  – All the news about health behavior faculty and students, alumni updates and features compiled twice a year, emailed to subscribers and available online.


Health behavior alumni at the career day they sponsored in 2017

Visit the Health Behavior Alumni page.

Read Health Behavior Matters, fall 2016.

Download older printed newsletters from the Health Behavior Alumni page.