Who We Are: Our History
Although public health programs had been part of the University of Minnesota since 1874, it took 70 years until public health had its own identity, on a par with the Medical School and the School of Nursing.
In 1944, a year before World War II ended, the Board of Regents created the School of Public Health (SPH). The man named head of the new school, Gaylord Anderson, was serving in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, so student health service director Ruth Boynton held his place.
In the years that followed, SPH added more and more areas of expertise. The University became the first in the country to grant a master’s degree in hospital administration (1948), and SPH founded the nation’s first PhD program in epidemiology (1958).
The Seven Countries Study
Also in 1958, the school’s most widely known “first” began: a unique population comparison of diet, risk factors, and rates of heart attack and stroke. Called the Seven Countries Study, it put its chief investigator, Ancel Keys, on the cover of Time magazine in 1961.
The Seven Countries Study changed the face of public health and how we think about diet, exercise and disease. It added to the school’s reputation as a leader in the study of cardiovascular disease and paved the way for the popularization of the Mediterranean Diet as one of the healthiest ways to eat.
The beginning of our global reach
The 1950s also marked a time of increasing awareness of basic public health needs in developing countries. SPH started a program to train engineers to provide safe drinking water for disadvantaged populations. This kind of global view is now a hallmark of the school. Our faculty and students, especially through field experiences, concern themselves with public health challenges around the world.
SPH research and outreach efforts have made it a force in bettering the lives of people at home and across the globe, and its graduate education is among the best in the country. Some standout examples include:
- Dianne Neumark-Stzainer’s Project EAT (Eating Among Teens) makes ongoing connections between how, why, when and what young people eat and their emotional and physical health.
- Michael Osterholm and the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) tracks emerging global pandemics and researches ways to counter them.
- Collaborative efforts between the Minnesota Department of Public Health and the SPH give students real-world experience.
- Our work with India is helping to develop the first schools of public health in that country and opening doors to sharing knowledge.
Our scope is large, yet focused
The School of Public Health works with zoonotic diseases, global health, rural outreach, health care disparities, biostatistics, aging and childhood health. We’re dedicated to discovering the best HIV/AIDS treatments, stopping obesity, helping young people quit smoking, and keeping workers safe. While our efforts reach across disciplines, ultimately, we’re focused on improving the health of populations.