Steven Gortmaker, Professor of the Practice of Health Sociology

Steven Gortmaker is Professor of the Practice of Health Sociology where he directs the Harvard Chan School of Public Health Prevention Research Center on Nutrition and Physical Activity (HPRC). The mission of the HPRC is to work with community partners to develop, evaluate, implement, and disseminate cost-effective strategies that will improve population nutrition and physical activity, reduce obesity and chronic disease, and improve health equity.

He currently directs the Childhood Obesity Intervention Cost-Effectiveness Study (CHOICES). Over the past three decades, more and more people living in the United States have developed obesity, which puts them at greater risk for diabetes, heart disease and cancer. If current trends continue, the majority of today’s children—59 percent—will grow up to have obesity when they are age 35. This is why CHOICES is working to identify effective prevention policies and programs that will help more children achieve and maintain a healthy weight and deliver the best results for the dollars invested. We use cost-effectiveness analysis to compare the costs and outcomes of different policies and programs, and microsimulation models to create virtual populations of people based on “big data” (e.g. US Census, National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System). Starting in 2015, the CHOICES team began partnerships to translate results into action. Together with the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) and the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), we have created Learning Collaborative Partnerships with state and city health agencies and both statewide and local partners. We have worked with 15 states and cities: Alaska, Washington State, Hawaii, Oklahoma, Denver, San Antonio, Mississippi, Minnesota, West Virginia, New Hampshire, Philadelphia, Allegheny Country (including Pittsburgh), Detroit, Houston and Salt Lake County. The CHOICES Learning Collaborative Partnership provides training, technical assistance, resources and tools on cost-effectiveness analysis for use in local decision-making related to obesity prevention strategies and opportunities for peer-to-peer learning.

Dr. Gortmaker’s research with colleagues has documented the “energy gap” responsible for recent increases in obesity among children and youth in the United States, and the important role played by excess intake of sugar sweetened beverages. He has been an author or coauthor of more than 240 published research articles, including the first report in the United States concerning the obesity epidemic among children and youth. These papers have helped to focus subsequent epidemiologic and intervention work in this field. In addition, Dr. Gortmaker and his colleagues have designed interventions that are low cost, easily disseminated, and sustainable. Such interventions include the school curriculums Planet Health and Eat Well and Keep Moving, the afterschool curriculum Food and Fun (jointly developed with YMCA of the USA), and the Out of School Nutrition and Physical Activity initiative (OSNAP). These interventions were evaluated with randomized trials and quasi-experimental designs. Recent studies include a four-paper obesity modeling series in the Lancet, and CHOICES papers in Health Affairs, Preventive Medicine and the New England Journal of Medicine.

Dr. Gortmaker earned his PhD from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.