Health

Berkman named to head Center for Population and Development Studies

3 min read

An "exciting time for the Population Center"

Social epidemiologist Lisa Berkman has been appointed director of the
Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, Harvard Provost
Steven E. Hyman today announced.

“I am extremely pleased that Professor Berkman has accepted the
position,” said Hyman. “She brings both expertise in population-based
research and a long history of collaborative activities that will serve
to reinvigorate the center, expand the breadth of its work, and involve
faculty and students from across the University.”

Berkman, the Thomas Cabot Professor of Public Policy and of
Epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), is
currently chair of the school’s Department of Society, Human
Development and Health
. Recognized for her groundbreaking work in the
field of social epidemiology, she is noted for identifying the effects
of social networks on mortality risks that helped define the field in
the late 1970s. She has also broadened the field with her
investigations of how social conditions related to inequality, race,
ethnicity, and social isolation influence health and aging.

“Lisa is a creative and dynamic leader with the rare gift of being
able to engage with members in almost every faculty in the University
and bringing together people and ideas from the biological sciences,
social sciences, and humanities,” said Dean Barry R. Bloom of the
Harvard School of Public Health, which administers the center.

“This is an exciting time for the Population Center,” said Berkman.
“Population and development is now a dynamic field embracing many
disciplines including demography, epidemiology, and a host of social
sciences. The field has lately begun to demonstrate a great capacity to
identify and understand the causal processes shaping the health and
well-being of populations. Determinants of population health include
social, physical, and biological environments as well as health systems
and political systems. Issues of migration will also be central to the
mission of the center.”

Similar to the development of neuroscience decades ago or of systems
biology more recently, scientists interested in population dynamics and
health are rapidly developing innovative approaches that integrate
several scientific fields.

“A nascent science of population health is being born,” Berkman noted.
“These new analytic approaches will reveal ways to intervene and reduce
inequalities in health and well-being within and across countries. We
expect the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies to be
at the center of this new discipline that could have a transforming
impact on global health and quality of life.”

Although the appointment is effective immediately, Berkman will
continue to direct the Department of Society, Human Development and
Health until the end of the academic year while a search is conducted
for her successor.

Before coming to HSPH in 1995 to head what was then the Department of
Health and Social Behavior, Berkman was head of the department of
chronic disease epidemiology at Yale School of Medicine.

A graduate of Northwestern University, Berkman received her master’s
(1975) and doctorate (1977) in epidemiology from the University of
California, Berkeley. She joined the Yale faculty in 1979 as an
assistant professor.

Berkman is currently a member of the Institute of Medicine and serves
as chair of the Board of Scientific Counselors of the National
Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health
. She is a past
president of the Society for Epidemiologic Research.

The Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies was
founded in 1964. It is an independent, University-wide center that
draws its faculty from many individual Schools across Harvard
University and also welcomes visiting faculty. The center is
administered by the School of Public Health and reports to the Office
of the Provost.