The research program Health Behaviors & Chronic Diseases (HB&CD) focuses on health behaviors, and their role in the prevention and management of chronic diseases. It recognizes that health behaviors are embedded in the environment in which people are born, grow up, live, work and age, but that they also bear an individual component. The program’s research is conducted in a variety of different populations and settings.

Healthy behaviors for all - powered by science

Program support: Joske Nauta

Mission and goals 

Chronic (non-communicable) diseases -mainly diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer- account for the majority of total disease burden worldwide. These chronic diseases are largely preventable by promoting healthy lifestyle behaviors. Unhealthy lifestyle behaviors are shaped by a complex interplay of factors; conditions in which people are born, grow up, live, work, age and individual features. Promoting healthy behaviors requires multifactorial interventions in the complexity of real-life settings. Interventions should both address the environment and the individual, and therefore demand close collaboration between a broad range of disciplines.

The goal of the HB&CD research program is to create, disseminate and exchange knowledge on health-related behaviors and interventions. We focus particularly on the mechanisms shaping these behaviors, their impact on health, and health promotion strategies. In doing so, we aim to reduce the burden of chronic diseases and related functional limitations, and improve quality of life/wellbeing. In line with our motto: "healthy behaviors for all - powered by science", we prioritize groups with a high risk of developing chronic diseases across the life course, including lower socio-economic and ethnic minority groups.

Program Leaders

Research themes

The health behaviors covered within HB&CD include alcohol use, dietary behavior, physical activity, sedentary behavior, sleep and smoking. The chronic diseases covered within HB&CD include, but are not limited to, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.  Our research centers around:

  • the distribution of health behaviors across the population and changes over time;
  • the determinants of health behaviors, including individual, environmental and genomic factors;
  • the measurement of health behaviors;
  • the impact of health behaviors on chronic diseases and functioning/quality of life/wellbeing; 
  • the development, implementation and evaluation of interventions promoting healthy behaviors. 

There is a strong focus on maximizing the societal relevance of research, and to achieve this we closely collaborate with actors in the public health domain such as the Municipal Health Service in Amsterdam. We aim to apply a participatory approach, involving end-users in the development of interventions and research projects with a strong focus on potential for wider implementation. 

Special Interest Groups 

Various Special Interest Groups are active within the HB&CD research program. Each of these groups has a different focus, and a brief description of their main objectives is provided below.

Geoscience and Health Cohort Consortium

The Geoscience and Health Cohort Consortium ( GECCO) is a Dutch infrastructure to support researchers to study the relation between environmental characteristics and health. In GECCO, fine-scale objectively measured social and physical environmental data are linked to individual-level data from more than 20 (longitudinal) cohort studies across the Netherlands. GECCO is coordinated by Amsterdam UMC, location VUmc, and governed by a steering group with representatives of all the GECCO-affiliated institutes.

Contact: Jeroen Lakerveld:

Participatory Research and Co-creation

This Special Interest Group aims to create an overview of the range of currently used participatory research approaches and methods within HB&CD, and wishes to connect researchers for the promotion of knowledge- and experience exchange. Two main goals of the group are; (1) starting-up a consensus project on terminology, and (2) working on guidelines for conducting and reporting participatory research. 


Systems thinking and public health

This Special Interest Group aims to further build expertise on systems science in public health, which is currently limited, by fostering cooperation between HB&CD researchers on the theory and analytics of the systems science approach. All HB&CD researchers who have an interest in the systems science approach can participate. 


Program council

The program leaders of the Health Behaviors & Chronic Disease research program chair the HB&CD Program Council. This program council consist of a selection of senior researchers of the research program who meet regularly to implement or update the research program-specific strategy and to discuss anticipatory or reactive response to external events.

Program council members
Teatske Altenburg Bas van den Putte
Ingeborg Brouwer Joreintje Mackenbach
Wilma Waterlander

Medior council

The Health Behaviors & Chronic Diseases research program has a medior council. The aim of the medior council is to create a group of peers amongst whom medior researchers can hold inter-vision, lectures, or organize workshops about issues particularly relevant to those in their mid-career. The typical medior researcher has obtained a PhD and is already working for some years as a post-doc or assistant professor. But anyone who considers him or herself to be a medior is welcome to join.

Medior council members
Coosje Dijkstra Wilma Waterlander
Femke van Nassau

Junior council

The Health Behaviors & Chronic Disease research program has installed a HB&CD Junior Council that provides program leaders with solicited and unsolicited advice and helps them with the organization of research program-specific activities or events.

Junior council members
Iris Koelmans Judith Visser
Thao Minh Lam Jelle Arts
Gaia Segantin

Research program members