Dariush Mozaffarian, a researcher in cardiology and epidemiology, was named dean of Tufts’ Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy on July 1. He will be the Friedman School’s fourth dean, following Robin Kanarek, who served as the interim dean for three years.
Previously, Mozaffarian conducted research into the dietary basis of cardiovascular disorders as an associate professor at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), where he co-founded and co-directed the Program in Cardiovascular Epidemiology. He said he had to choose between continuing his research full-time and leading the Friedman School when he was asked to last winter.
“My major career interests have always been to have an impact on the diets of people eating both in the U.S. and globally,” he said. “When contacted with this position, my first thoughts were, ‘Where could I potentially have a greater impact?'”
Mozaffarian said he saw untapped potential in the breadth of the Friedman School, the only graduate school focusing on nutrition science and policy in the United States.
“The Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy has not only current great impacts, but really the potential for even more impact on the health of Americans and the world,” he said. “For me, ultimately the decision was very easy.”
William Masters, a professor and chair of the Department of Food and Nutrition Policy at the Friedman School, served as a member of the dean search committee. The committee consisted of professors, administrators, experts and students.
“The challenge is to find a dynamic leader who has a vision for the school and for the field, who can attract the kind of resources and people who make Tufts great,” Masters said.
While the committee looked at candidates with various backgrounds, including academics, policymakers and industry professionals, Masters said Mozaffarian’s standing in the field made him an easy choice.
“He’s an extraordinary figure in nutrition science policy,” Masters said.
He noted that in recent media debate about the role of fat and carbohydrates in diet, Mozaffarian has been a go-to commentator.
“Who do they call? They call him,” Masters said. “When people are looking for wisdom about diet-related disease, he’s someone who has a very unique position.”
Mozaffarian said he first became interested in nutrition as a medical resident at Stanford University.
“I found that nutrition health is the single most important factor in my patients’ health and that it was almost totally missing from medical school [curricula] and the healthcare system,” Mozaffarian said. “I thought that about 90 percent of our dietary guidelines were made up, not based on very strong evidence.”
The Friedman School itself is unique for combining aspects of nutrition that are often studied separately in medical schools and policy centers, according to Mozaffarian.
“I think part one of the challenges of nutrition has been that we’ve had sort of separate camps, generally,” he said. “That sometimes leads to … policies that actually maybe are harmful for the population.”
While Mozaffarian has studied various intersections of nutrition science and policy in the past, he said he’s excited to expand outside of his area of expertise into topics like food security.
“All of these parts of nutrition are important, and they’re all things that I’ve been interested in over my career in different ways,” he said. “So on the one hand, this feels just like coming home.”
As dean, Mozaffarian looks to advance the school’s goals and further integrate the school’s operations. Since welcoming its first class of 17 students in 1981, the Friedman School has expanded to offer a dozen degree programs to more than 200 students.
“The Friedman School has three missions in my mind: education, research and impact,” Mozaffarian said. “What I hopefully can bring to the school is a passion for nutrition and a passion for a nutrition across all of its realms.”
Masters said Mozaffarian has already brought change to the school, having done away with department chairs for policy and science, which caused some friction. Instead, Mozaffarian has appointed an academic dean for education and an academic dean for faculty.
“He was able to see the wisdom in it and implement [it] in a way that I think is characteristic of his leadership,” Masters said.
Besides his own unique skills and experience, Mozaffarian brought along his research team from Harvard and some additional new hires, adding about 20 research assistants and professors to the Friedman School’s staff, according to Mozaffarian.
Since even before he formally took the post this summer, Mozaffarian has also been meeting with all of the Friedman School’s existing faculty and reading their work.
“The main thing I’ve tried to achieve so far is just getting to know the school,” he said. “I’m still just partway through that process.”
Once settled, he said his main mission is to expand the reach of the work produced by the Friedman School’s professors and students.
“There’s a lot of pent-up positive energy for change,” Mozaffarian said. “[I want to] turn that education and that research into impact so that we’re not just an ivory tower publishing scientific papers and diplomas, but we’re actually impacting the world.”
Mozaffarian received degrees from Stanford University, the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, the University of Washington School of Public Health and the HSPH.