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Health Behaviors Research

Health Behaviors Research Program

It is increasingly recognized that the major causes of death and morbidity can be in large part attributable to lifestyle factors.  Directed by Drs. Christina Wee and Kenneth Mukamal, the Division's Health Behaviors Research Program focuses on understanding the role that health behavior plays in both causing and preventing or ameliorating disease and morbidity.  A multidisciplinary group of investigators conducts this work utilizing diverse research methodologies ranging from qualitative and survey research to analysis of large complex databases and clinical trials.  Our research portfolio addresses a wide range of health behaviors and health outcomes including the role of different diets, alcohol, exercise, and integrative therapies. 


Kenneth M. Mukamal , MD, MPH has primary research interests in investigating the role of dietary and lifestyle factors - particularly alcohol consumption - on the incidence and prognosis of cardiovascular and neurovascular disease and its risk factors.  He is the PI of two NIH R01 grants, focusing on novel biological pathways that lead to the development of peripheral arterial disease, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.  As a general internist and clinical investigator, his research has utilized hospital-based clinical data, ongoing epidemiological studies, and interventional studies.  The outcomes of this research have been broad-based and include diverse health effects of alcohol from novel cardiovascular risk factors and subclinical vascular disease to falls and suicide.

Christina C. Wee , MD, MPH conducts studies in the area of obesity and its related health behaviors.  She is particularly interested in the role of patients' perceptions and attitudes about weight on medical decision-making and health promotion generally and the adoption of behaviors that promote weight control.  She is the PI of two NIH R01 grants.  Race and Health Outcomes Associated with Obesity examines the influence of race on mortality, cardiovascular risk, disparities in care, and healthcare costs.  Her second R01 project follows a longitudinal cohort of patients undergoing weight loss surgery and a cross-sectional sample of primary care patients to better understand patients' value for weight loss and how this affects decision-making and preferences around the adoption of different weight treatments and health behaviors that promote weight loss.

Core Faculty:

Dr.  Suzanne Bertisch's research focuses on behavioral therapies for prevention and treatment of cardiovascular diseases and sleep disorders. Her current studies examine the use, physiologic mechanisms, and efficacy of alternative and integrative behavioral therapies (e.g., yoga). She currently holds an NIH K23 career development award for preliminary work examining the physiology of yogic-derived slow breathing and its influence on autonomic cardiovascular control, with plans to implement a pilot study examining slow breathing and yoga as adjunctive therapies for prehypertension/hypertension in patients with obesity. Additionally, she is conducting analyses examining use of behavioral therapies by patients in insomnia and collaborates on clinical trials evaluating nonpharmacologic treatments (e.g., CPAP) in patients with sleep disorders.

Dr. Catherine Buettner's research interests center on the use of dietary supplements and cardiovascular health. She received a K23 career development award from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases in 2009 to study the condition of statin myopathy.  She is currently recruiting for a clinical trial that assesses the effects of a commonly used dietary supplement, coenzyme Q10, for statin-associated myopathy. Her study will be one of the first adequately powered randomized controlled trials to determine if coenzyme Q10 improves statin myopathy.  In addition to her research, Dr. Buettner also provides clinical consultations on optimizing all facets of diet, lifestyle, and medication management (when appropriate), statin myopathy, headache conditions, and working with individuals who could benefit from an integrative nutrition approach to improving their health conditions.

Dr.  Angela Fowler-Brown has research interests in the area of obesity and cardiovascular health through-out the life-course.  Her current work focuses on understanding the risk posed by obesity in the elderly population and identifying behavioral approaches to ameliorate this risk.  She is currently analyzing NHANES data to understand the preferences and weight control strategies of older adults.  She is also examining the role of physical activity on the prevention of disability and functional decline in the elderly.

Our Division Chief,  Russell Phillips, MD has research interests in the effect of integrative therapies as adjunctive treatments for the management of chronic medical conditions.  He recently completed a R01 project funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) to study tai chi, a mind body exercise program, as adjunctive treatment for patients with congestive heart failure and is a co-investigator on an ongoing R01 project to study of tai chi as an adjunctive therapy for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.  Dr. Phillips also directs an NIH T32 Research Fellowship Program in Integrative Therapies that focuses on health behaviors and the placebo response.   He is a recipient of a K24 mid-career investigator award from the NIH to support his mentoring activities and research development .

Dr.  Gloria Y. Yeh's research interests focus on efficacy and mechanisms of mind-body exercise for chronic disease.  Inherent in mind-body exercises are multiple components (e.g., physical activity, core strengthening, relaxation, stress management, meditation, cardiovascular endurance training and breathing techniques) that may provide benefits for various populations, including those with chronic cardiovascular or pulmonary conditions.  Along with Dr. Phillips, Dr. Yeh spearheaded a R01 project looking at the effect of tai chi on heart failure.  She is currently the Principal Investigator of a second R01 project funded by NCCAM which investigates tai chi exercise and mind-body breathing as adjunctive therapies to enhance quality of life, improve functional capacity, and promote exercise adherence for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.  She is also co-investigator of a number of trials, including those investigating the effects of mind-body exercise in obese individuals with cardiovascular risk factors, tai chi for chronic low back pain and for depression, and the short and long term effects of mind-body therapies on complexity, function, and resilience of multiple physiological systems (e.g., cardiovascular, pulmonary, and balance) in both frail and healthy elders.  In addition, Dr. Yeh is broadly interested in complementary and integrative therapies research and has mentored fellows in areas including complementary therapies in medical education and incorporation of integrative care in conventional settings.  Dr. Yeh has served on national scientific review committees, including the NIH NCCAM.

Affiliated Faculty
Dr.  Suzanne Leveille is an experienced epidemiologist with an extensive clinical background in geriatric nursing. Her research interests have centered on musculoskeletal pain and disability in older populations, patient empowerment interventions, and epidemiologic methods. Dr. Leveille recently published a landmark epidemiologic study in JAMA reporting that chronic musculoskeletal pain is associated with a 50% increase in risk for falls among older adults living in the community. This study has generated a remarkable amount of interest among researchers, clinicians and the general public as it represents a potentially significant new target for the prevention of falls in older adults.  In addition to her research activities, Dr. Leveille also holds teaching positions as a Professor of Nursing at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, and a Lecturer at Harvard Medical School.  She has also served on the board of directors of the Boston Partnership for Older Adults, a city-wide coalition aimed at improving community-based care for Boston's elderly population, and is a current member of the City of Boston's Disability Commission.