BUFFALO, N.Y. – The University at Buffalo Department
of Social and Preventive Medicine in the School of Public Health
and Health Professions (SPHHP), established in 1960, is known for
its groundbreaking research in epidemiology, the science that
studies the patterns, causes and prevention of diseases in
To reflect its important work in that field, its history and
current faculty research, the department is renamed the Department
of Epidemiology and Environmental Health.
Nutritional epidemiologist Youfa Wang, MD, PhD, MS and chair of
the department, said, “The new name better reflects the
teaching and research focus and strengths of our faculty and our
future strategic development plans.
“It also honors the work of the many outstanding scholars
in these fields who put this department on the map,” he
Wang said the name also reflects specific outstanding
contributions the department has made in many areas of
epidemiological research. He points to faculty members who are
involved in National Institutes of Health
(NIH)-funded research on the roles of diet and vitamin D in
the etiology of cancer, age-related eye disorders and periodontal
disease, causes of cancer, cardiovascular and metabolic diseases,
obesity and diet, the relationship between physical activity and
other lifestyle and environmental factors and non-communicable
chronic diseases, aging, global population health, effects of
environmental pollution and occupational exposures on health,
genetic influences on diseases, and factors influencing and
promoting women’s and children’s health.
The department has been known by several names over the years,
and has an illustrious history dating back to the late 19th
century, when new university courses in public health, hygiene,
sanitation and disease prevention reflected the sea change in
medical research and practice brought about by the development of
aseptic techniques and public health principles.
The UB Division of Hygiene and Sanitation, founded in 1913,
reflected and institutionalized this change, and in 1919, in the
midst of the great influenza pandemic, the UB medical school
established the Department of Hygiene and Public Health.
The department was located in the UB medical school as the
Department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health from 1945 until
1960, when it was renamed the Department of Social and Preventive
In 2003, the department moved from the medical school and became
part of the new SPHHP. It continued its community and
cross-disciplinary collaborations and added master of public health
(MPH) graduate programs in epidemiology, environmental health and
health services administration to its offerings. Today it offers a
range of MS, MPH and PhD degrees in several disciplines.
Jean Wactawski-Wende, PhD, professor and associate chair of the
department and principal investigator of the NIH-funded national
Women’s Health Initiative study, said that in 2010 the
department formally created the cross-disciplinary Division
of Environmental Health Sciences, headed by UB Distinguished
Professor James Olson, PhD, who holds professorships in SPHHP and
the medical school.
“This division brings together environmental
epidemiologists, toxicologists, chemists, engineers, geographers
and professionals from other disciplines to integrate various
disciplines that focus on environmental health issues from a wide
range of perspectives and research areas,” she said.
In addition to Wang, an internationally known expert in
childhood obesity, and Wactawski-Wende, faculty members of note
include Olsen and UB Distinguished Professor Jo L. Freudenheim,
PhD, a recognized leader in the areas of diet and genetics in the
etiology of breast cancer.
“Current departmental faculty members maintain a strong
research portfolio and their work has been published in some of the
most highly regarded scientific journals,” Wang
“This is an exciting time and a period of growth in the
department,” he said. “The new name reflects more
clearly the focus of the department research and educational
Wang, who joined the department recently from Johns Hopkins
University, says, “I was attracted to this department based
on its current strengths and impressive history and the
unprecedented opportunities at UB, including its ambitious UB 2020
Initiatives. I look forward to building further on that great