Promoting healthy behaviors, engaging communities, shaping policy.

The Gillings School's Department of Health Behavior is the home for Master of Public Health concentrations in global health and health behavior, as well as a dual master's degree and a doctoral degree. See all our degrees and concentrations.

Our students develop the skills they need to be community change agents for issues that undermine public health both locally and globally, including: violence, obesity, cancer, HIV, health policy and health disparities.

For information about returning to campus this fall, please visit the UNC Gillings Return to Campus Roadmap page.

Statement by Health Behavior Leadership

The recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Steven Taylor, Tony McDade, David McAtee and Ahmaud Arbery have shown the world the devasting impact of structural racism and police violence. These horrific killings of Black people by white people in the U.S. are taking place during a pandemic that has taken Black lives at more than double the rate of white lives. Racism and inaction are at the core of the disparities occurring in the U.S. COVID-19 epidemic. These health disparities, and others like them, will not be eliminated until we address the systemic racism that underlies them. We would like to thank the Equity Collective for sharing their initial reactions to the recent murders with the department over the weekend, the group of white students in our rising second-year MPH cohort who sent their collective statement today and all others who continue to hold us accountable to being anti-racist.

We know that many of you are experiencing a mix of emotions – pain, sadness, anger, despair, exhaustion, numbness and a desire to take action. We are too. To our Black students, faculty and staff members: we acknowledge the toll that pervasive oppression takes on your mental and physical health. We stand by you. Black lives matter. To our white students: we hear your commitment to gaining skills and knowledge as anti-racist practitioners. For all of us, we recognize how racism, in Camara Jones’ words, saps the strength and resources of our community as a whole. We must change how we operate. Police brutality, COVID-19, racism and white privilege are issues that require a public health perspective.

We acknowledge that it should not be the job of people of color to fix these issues facing our country. Oppressive institutions and systems were created and upheld by white people and white people need to do their part to dismantle the institutions and systems that have perpetuated these problems.

In many discussions over the past year, we talked about the need to move beyond verbal statements and toward action. Our department has made some promising steps toward action, but we must step up these efforts. Here are some of the actions that we are taking as a department. This is a draft list that is relevant to the events that have unfolded recently and we will edit and refine the list as time passes.

  1. We are concerned about our students during this time. We have asked all health behavior faculty to reach out to their mentees to check in with them and ask what kind of support they need. Kurt will be reaching out to all staff as well.
  2. As a leadership team, we signed up to attend the Racial Equity Institute Groundwater training in June. Our faculty as a whole has committed to completing the REI Phase I training when those workshops begin again.
  3. We will revisit and evaluate the content of all of our department’s required courses and curriculum in the coming year to ensure that we have strong anti-racist training for our students – training that is above and beyond what is covered in courses offered through the integrated core and our current course content.
  4. We will continue to listen to and act on the recommendations and action plans of the Health Behavior Equity Task Force. This group has been informed by the recent demands from the Health Behavior Student Action, a report from the Equity Collective and the effort of countless students who have pushed for anti-racism in our department for decades. We are prepared to support and implement the recommendations of the Equity Task Force.
  5. We will apply an explicit equity lens toward our work with COVID-19. Many faculty members and students are starting to work in this space. A health behavior faculty group is launching an essential worker project and will share those efforts in the next few weeks.

There are many other activities that we need to undertake and we look forward to your input and contributions.

Kurt M. Ribisl, Chair
Suzanne Maman, Vice Chair of Academic Affairs
Elizabeth Chen, MPH Concentration Lead
Clare Barrington, Doctoral Program Director

Coronavirus Affects Everyone: The Department of Health Behavior Responds

Dr. Liz Chen and Hannah Prentice-Dunn, project manager for cancer intervention research at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, are co-leading a task force to explore solutions to the emergency childcare needs of health care workers in the UNC health care system. The team is gathering information and resources, testing different solutions and making informed recommendations as quickly as possible to ensure health care workers have childcare coverage during school and childcare center closures — especially as the need for health care workers grows. The task force includes health behavior students Emily Newman and Kathryn Carpenter in addition to alumna Dr. Cristina Leos, co-founder of MyHealthEd, Inc., and Vichi Jagannathan, co-founder of the Rural Opportunity Institute.

An illustration from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals the basic form of the virus blamed for the outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China.

Message from the Chair

Read about our research.

Our faculty and students are active researchers in North Carolina, across the United States and around the world, with many studies focusing upon these issues: community health, violence prevention, policy change, HIV/AIDS prevention and control, health disparities reduction, health communication, mHealth, obesity and diabetes management, tobacco control and health promotion in the workplace.

Keep up with what we’re doing.

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Learn about our history.

Established in 1942 as UNC’s Department of Public Health Education, ours was the first program of its kind in the United States.

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