UB department changes name to reflect its strengths, future development

Department of Social and Preventive Medicine now Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health

Release Date: March 25, 2014 This content is archived.

Youfa Wang.

Youfa Wang.

“The new name better reflects the teaching and research focus and strengths of our faculty and our future strategic development plans. ”
Youfa Wang, chair, Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health
University at Buffalo

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 populations.

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 said. 

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 Medicine.

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 said. 

“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 missions.”

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 foundation.”

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