RAND scholar appointed Chair of Epidemiology at Pitt Public Health

Tamara Dubowitz, ScD, MS, MSc, a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation in Pittsburgh, has been appointed professor and chair of the Department of Epidemiology, effective April 15.

A faculty member at the Pardee RAND Graduate School, Dubowitz is trained in social epidemiology. Her research interests focus on the role of place and geography in shaping the health and health behaviors of marginalized populations, particularly in view of policies affecting housing, urban planning and food security. Over the past 20 years, she has proven adept at building multidisciplinary research teams and led projects that bridge academic institutions and historically disinvested communities.

“I am thrilled to be joining the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health community and look forward to working to ensure that the Department of Epidemiology (and the school) will continue to grow and thrive,” said Dubowitz. “I’m also very excited to be in a school where mentorship, teaching and research really go hand-in-hand.”

In 2010, Dubowitz launched the first of a suite of National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded studies based in Pittsburgh—the Pittsburgh Hill/Homewood Research on Neighborhood Change and Health, or PHRESH.

Initially, investigators looked at how factors like diet and food purchasing were associated with food deserts. A few years later, Pitt researchers brought their expertise to the study, looking at how neighborhood factors influenced sleep, cardiovascular health, and—most recently—cognitive outcomes.

“Anecdotally, data collectors on home visits began noticing some of the participants were having memory problems,” said Andrea Rosso, associate professor of epidemiology, who is part of the PHRESH team.

On average, Americans start showing symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias in their mid-60s. But these study participants were younger — in their mid-40s to early 50s, Rosso said — making her wonder if there might be a link to neighborhood factors.

Funded by a $9.6 million grant from the National Institute on Aging, the dementia study began enrolling participants in 2022. It is a collaboration between RAND, the Department of Epidemiology and the Department of Psychiatry in Pitt’s School of Medicine.

I am especially excited about continuing the department’s commitment to work that impacts communities, neighborhoods and regions,” said Dubowitz, who is a multiple principal investigator on the project with Russo.

Dubowitz earned her ScD and MS from the Harvard School of Public Health and her MSc from the University of Pennsylvania. She spent more than two years working on women's health programs and development with the Peace Corps in Burkina Faso, West Africa.

-Michele Baum