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Walter C. Willett, MD, DrPH

Fredrick John Stare Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition
Chair, Department of Nutrition
Harvard School of Public Health
Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School
Boston, Massachusetts

Current Research

  • Seeking to characterize┬áthe impact of diet and lifestyle on health outcomes, particularly on the risk and outcomes of breast cancer.

  • Ongoing studies are focused on┬áthe effect of meat and other protein sources on breast cancer risk and in refining the tools used to assess dietary intake in research studies.

  • Dr. Willett's research has influenced numerous health recommendations and continues to inform preventive strategies for breast cancer.

Dr. Willett's BCRF research has focused on understanding the influence of lifestyle factors, particularly diet and weight, on breast cancer risk and outcomes utilizing data from the Pooling Project of Prospective Studies of Diet and Cancer (a group of prospective cohorts from around the world), the Life Style Validation Study (LVS), and the Growing up Today Study (GUTS), all supported previously by BCRF.

Identifying modifiable risk factors for breast cancer is of utmost importance. This year, Dr. Willett's team will conduct an investigation of the effects of different meats and other protein sources on breast cancer risk. This study will offer the most definitive analyses of commonly consumed foods and portions in relation to risk of breast cancer and will directly inform the 2020 US dietary guidelines. The evidence derived from this analysis will be important in clarifying the health effects of red meat consumption.

Related efforts include determining the best way to validate dietary intake to improve the design of nutrition studies that require dietary recall. Finally, the team will continue their follow-up of dietary intake in the GUTS cohort, and collect the annual update of information on reproductive and lifestyle behaviors of participants.


Dr. Walter Willett is Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition and Chairman of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Willett, an American, was born in Hart, Michigan and grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, studied food science at Michigan State University, and graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School before obtaining a Doctorate in Public Health from Harvard School of Public Health. Dr. Willett has focused much of his work over the last 30 years on the development of methods, using both questionnaire and biochemical approaches, to study the effects of diet on the occurrence of major diseases. He has applied these methods starting in 1980 in the Nurses' Health Studies I and II and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. Together, these cohorts that include nearly 300,000 men and women with repeated dietary assessments are providing the most detailed information on the long-term health consequences of food choices.

Dr. Willett has published over 1,500 articles, primarily on lifestyle risk factors for heart disease and cancer, and has written the textbook, Nutritional Epidemiology, published by Oxford University Press. He also has four books book for the general public, Eat, Drink and Be Healthy: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating, which has appeared on most major bestseller lists, Eat, Drink, and Weigh Less, co-authored with Mollie Katzen, The Fertility Diet, co-authored with Jorge Chavarro and Pat Skerrett, and most recently, Thinfluence, co-authored with Malissa Wood, emphasizing the powerful and surprising effect friends, family, work, and environment have on weight. Dr. Willett is the most cited nutritionist internationally and is among the five most cited persons in all fields of clinical science. He is a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and the recipient of many national and international awards for his research.

BCRF Investigator Since


Donor Recognition

The Women's Cancer Research Fund Award

Area(s) of Focus

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