William J. McCarthy

Dr. William McCarthy has devoted most of his 30+ year career to intervention studies designed to encourage members of special populations to adhere to federal nutrition and physical activity guidelines (African American adult women, low-income middle school students, low-income patients of community health centers) and to be smoke-free (WIC participants, aerospace workers, Korean and South Asian immigrants, residents of homeless shelters). He has also conducted epidemiological investigations of tobacco use and daily food choices in special populations (adolescents, Asian subpopulations, residents of homeless shelters) and nationally representative populations.

Dr. McCarthy received the 1994 American Cancer Society Capitol Dome award for his career of public service, the 1994 Health Fitness Leader award from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, and the 2013 American Cancer Society St. George Medal for his exemplary volunteer activities. He received his doctoral training at Yale University (Psychology Ph.D.) 

Teaching. Dr. McCarthy teaches "Obesity, Physical Activity and Nutrition" (HS M255 / CHS M234). He also teaches Psychology 217 -" Behavioral Determinants of Primary Prevention: An Intervention Approach.

Service. He has been a member of and chaired regional and state committees on nutrition and wellness for the American Cancer Society. He chaired a Health Advisory Committee for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District for seven years. He currently serves on the Executive Committee of the California Dialogue on Cancer.

Research. Dr. McCarthy co-directed the Center for Population Health and Health Disparities (CPHHD), which focused on home and neighborhood environmental approaches to reducing heart disease risk in the mostly immigrant Mexican American residents of East Los Angeles. For 11 years he was chief evaluator of California's tobacco use education efforts in the state's public middle and high schools. His current research includes a randomized controlled health promotion intervention involving breast cancer survivors designed to reduce risk of cancer recurrence by improving participants' gut microbiota composition. His current research also examines the environmental antecedents of adolescent tobacco use uptake as well as the functional MRI-based changes in brain function that follow adolescent tobacco use uptake.

Center Affiliations


  • PhD, Psychology, Yale University, New Haven, CT
  • MA, Psychology, University of Illinois, Chicago, IL

Areas of Interest

  • Randomized controlled trial research on behavioral strategies to encourage healthier eating, increased physical activity and avoidance of tobacco smoke.
  • Epidemiological research into the association of primordial prevention (adherence to federal nutrition, physical activity and tobacco control guidelines in healthy individuals) with specific health outcomes (cancer outcomes, cardiovascular disease, diabetes).
  • Experimental research designed to identify specific mechanisms for how aggregated health risks (e.g. sedentariness, smoking, low-fiber intake) yield cumulatively worse health prospects.

Selected Courses

  • HP M255/CHS M234: "Obesity, physical activity and nutrition-a policy-oriented course"
  • Psych 217, section 2: "Lifestyle Determinants of Health Promotion: Multilevel Behavior-Change Approach"

Selected Publications

  • Cheney AM, McCarthy WJ, Pozar M, et al. “Ancestral Recipes”: A Mixed-Methods Analysis of MyPlate-Based Recipe Dissemination for Latinos in Rural Communities. BMC Public Health. 2022-in press.
  • Mistry R, Kleinsasser MJ, Puntambekar N, et al. Neighbourhood tobacco retail access and tobacco use susceptibility in young adolescents in urban India. Tob Control. 2022-in press.
  • Cheung E, Romero T, Crespi CM, et al. Undergraduate Support for University Smoke-Free & Vape-Free Campus Policies and Student Engagement: A Quasi-Experimental Intervention. Journal of American College Health. 2022;70:992-1000.
  • Gelberg L, Rico MW, Herman DR, et al. Comparative effectiveness trial comparing MyPlate to calorie counting for mostly low-income Latino primary care patients of a federally qualified community health center: study design, baseline characteristics. BMC Public Health. 2019;19(1):990.
  • Patel M, Thai CL, Meng YY, et al. Smoke-Free Car Legislation and Student Exposure to Smoking. Pediatrics. 2018;141(Suppl 1):S40-s50.
  • Cavallo DN, Horino M, McCarthy WJ. Adult Intake of Minimally Processed Fruits and Vegetables: Associations with Cardiometabolic Disease Risk Factors. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2016;116(9):1387-1394.
  • Mistry R, Pednekar M, Pimple S, et al. Banning tobacco sales and advertisements near educational institutions may reduce students' tobacco use risk: evidence from Mumbai, India. Tob Control. 2015;24(E1):E100-E107.
  • Bostean G, Trinidad DR, McCarthy WJ. E-Cigarette Use Among Never-Smoking California Students. Am J Public Health. 2015;105(12):2423-2425.
  • Gase LN, McCarthy WJ, Robles B, Kuo T. Student receptivity to new school meal offerings: Assessing fruit and vegetable waste among middle school students in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Prev. Med. 2014;67:S28-S33.
  • McCarthy WJ, Mistry R, Lu Y, Patel M, Zheng H, Dietsch B. The density of tobacco retailers near schools:  Effect on risk of student smoking. American Journal of Public Health. 2009;99:2006-2013.