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BCRF Grantee Since


Donor Recognition

The Wilson Sporting Goods Award

Area(s) of Focus

Walter C. Willett, MD, Dr.PH

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

Current Research

Dr. Willett’s BCRF research has focused on understanding the influence of lifestyle factors, particularly diet and weight, on breast cancer risk and outcomes, including a recent study that showed that higher intake of red meat during adolescence is related to higher risk of breast cancer later in life. In the coming year, his group will build upon prior analyses conducted with BCRF support examining the relationship between alcohol consumption and sustained weight loss. Another major effort will be to analyze data from the Women’s Lifestyle Validation Study (a sub-study of the Nurse’s Health Study) to improve the measurement of diet and physical activity in studies of breast and other cancers in women. These studies are important because the NHS cohort has provided much of the data underlying our knowledge of diet in relation to risk of breast cancer. Data from these analyses will assist in interpretation of results from these studies and will guide future work to optimize the assessment of diet and physical activity in epidemiologic studies of diet and cancer.   Dr. Willet’s team will continue follow-up of women in the Growing Up Today Study (GUTS), initiated and expanded with funding from BCRF. In this study, they have prospectively followed over 15,000 young women starting as girls ages 10-15. Data that have been collected and analyzed include lifestyle, anthropometric, and dietary information gathered by questionnaire. This resource has allowed Dr. Willett’s team to examine several important hypotheses related to benign breast disease, a known risk factor for breast cancer, in these young women.


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.

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