Skip Navigation

Health, Behavior and Society


The Department of Health, Behavior and Society was established in the summer of 2005 with a mission dedicated to research and training that advances scientific understanding of the impact of the societal context and behavior on health.

Planning began in May 2003, when the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health announced that it would establish the new department with a $20 million gift from an anonymous donor. The Dean appointed the Behavior and Health Planning Committee to guide its development. The committee made a key recommendation that the department should apply a social-ecological approach to its work, which would include the study of not only individual behavior, but also the social context that shapes human behavior. 

In May 2005, the Bloomberg School announced the selection of David Holtgrave, PhD, a nationally recognized leader in HIV prevention and social science, as the inaugural chair. Dr. Holtgrave served as chair for thirteen years, and the Department grew and flourished under his leadership.

With the establishment of the Department of Health, Behavior and Society, we have an historic opportunity to generate scientific findings and train future public health leaders with the real potential to change behavioral and social aspects of public health for decades to come.
— David Holtgrave, PhD, Founding Chair 

In November 2017, Dr. Holtgrave announced that he would leave the Bloomberg School to assume an appointment as Dean of the School of Public Health at the University at Albany, State University of New York. Upon Dr. Holtgrave's departure, Peg Ensminger, PhD, a professor in HBS, was appointed as Interim Chair, and she remained in that role until August 2019, when Rajiv Rimal, PhD, began his tenure as the new Chair of HBS. 

Thanks to our first-rate faculty and students, the Department of Health, Behavior and Society continues to grow in terms of reputation, number of courses and number of research and practice projects. 

On July 1, 2005, 20 faculty members transferred into the Department. Twelve years later, the department has grown to include 56 full-time faculty members, including leaders in the behavioral and social sciences and public health. The number of graduate students being trained in HBS has grown from the 40 students who initially transferred into the new department to more than 131 students during the 2016-2017 academic year. 

In the eleven years since its founding, Health, Behavior and Society faculty members have established a body of research on par with peer departments nationwide—as of August 2017, they have published a total of more than 2,000 peer-reviewed manuscripts.

The Department has also established an exceptional record of providing scientific input to key decision-makers from the President to Congress to state health departments to local community-based organizations to the private sector.