TC Media Center from the Office of External Affairs

Section Navigation

Mayhew Derryberry Revisited



Allegrante's Newest Book


Nearly everyone today recognizes the impact of public health education campaigns: messages to quit smoking, use seat belts and reduce cholesterol, for example, have changed behavior and saved millions of lives. But almost no one outside the field knows the man who pioneered many of the modern concepts of public health education.

John Allegrante wants to make sure that the next generation of health education scientists and practitioners doesn't forget Mayhew Derryberry, the first chief of health education for the U.S. Public Health Service and first public health expert to bring behavioral science to the field.

"He is a legend, a giant on whose shoulders we stand," said Allegrante, Professor of Health Education and President of the National Center for Health Education.

With David A. Sleet of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Allegrante has edited a new anthology of Derryberry's ground-breaking writings on public health education. The book, Derryberry's Educating for Health: A Foundation for Contemporary Health Education Practice (Jossey-Bass, 2004), is being published this month.

The book updates a 1987 anthology of Derryberry's papers from the 1940s through the 1960s, when he was at the peak of his influence at the Public Health Service. Derryberry covers such topics as physicians and nurses' roles in health education, how to influence health behavior, and community health education. The new book adds a biographical sketch and a dozen essays by public health experts reflecting on Derryberry's contributions to the field.

Why re-release writings from the 40s and 50s when the field and the public health issues it addresses are constantly changing?

"What is remarkable is that some of these stand the test of time pretty well," Allegrante said. "These are think pieces and conceptual pieces he wrote where the essential principles of the field got laid out. Those principles are absolutely true today."

Derryberry was born in 1902 in Tennessee and earned a B.A. in 1925 from the University of Tennessee, a master's in Education and Psychology at TC in 1927 and a Ph.D. in Health and Physical Education from New York University in 1933. He worked for the American Child Health Association and New York City Health Department before moving to the U.S. Public Health Service in 1937. Derryberry was chief of the health service's Division of Health Education from 1941 until his retirement in 1963. He died in 1979.

Before Derryberry, health education was mainly concerned with preventing contagious diseases with such "magic bullets" as vaccination, safer food supplies and sanitation. Derryberry saw that the most pressing health problems of the future would be the chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer. Prevention of such diseases requires behavioral changes-more exercise, better diet, more frequent screening exams-that are often not easy or quick to show results. "He was really the first to understand this," Allegrante said.

One of Derryberry's key contributions was to bring in "bright, talented young social psychologists," Allegrante said, who looked at such questions as why people did not take advantage of available health screening services. Derryberry and his researchers developed the Health Belief Model, an applied theory of what motivated human health behavior-"probably the cornerstone of health education," he said.

Derryberry's Educating for Health is aimed primarily at undergraduate and graduate students who are preparing for health education careers, but current practitioners and others will find it useful as well.

"Our intent is to preserve something about the man, the work he did and his legacy, and to catalyze the interest of those coming along in health education," Allegrante said. "They should know that there is a science base we can trace back-that there is a history to this field."

previous page