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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

National and international nutrition guidelines recommend maintaining and achieving a healthy body weight. A protective relationship of a healthy weight or weight loss is biologically plausible given that weight loss has been shown to lower levels of circulating estrogens and insulin, both of which are associated with breast cancer risk. However, the role of weight loss during mid to later adulthood on breast cancer risk is largely unknown. Dr. Willett and his team are building on prior experiences in the Pooling Project of Prospective Studies of Diet and Cancer (Pooling Project) to examine associations with weight change during mid to later adulthood and breast cancer risk. If a protective effect is observed for sustained weight loss, this study will provide strong evidence for a recommendation to encourage overweight or obese women to lose weight and therefore lower their breast cancer risk.

In a related project, Dr. Willett and his team are examining lifestyle factors including diet, weight changes and physical activity on breast cancer risk in over 15,000 young women who participated in The Growing up Today study (GUTS). The extensive data gathered during adolescence and now young adulthood, will allow them to examine many variables in relation to risk of benign breast disease and breast cancer in future years.


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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