NIA Division Director Haaga Retires
Dr. John G. Haaga, director of NIA’s Division of Behavioral and Social Research (BSR), retired on Dec. 31 after 16 years of federal service. Colleagues appreciated his clever use of amusing anecdotes to illustrate his points and deftly sway the course of scientific discussions. As an expert in demography, he is best known for calling attention to the growing socioeconomic and regional differences in health disparities in the United States.
Haaga arrived at NIA in 2004 to become deputy director of BSR. He was acting division director from 2015 to 2016, and director from 2016 to 2019. Under his leadership, the division supported research and training grants in behavioral, cognitive, population and social sciences, and health services research related to healthy aging, as well as age-associated diseases and conditions.
He grew the research portfolio by introducing new initiatives and starting new funding streams, resulting in more grants, centers and networks. He encouraged staff to focus on key topics such as rural health and socioeconomic disparities. In addition, Haaga also served as coordinator of the trans-NIH Common Fund program in health economics.
“With increased overall funding, including the substantial increases in funding for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias research over the past several years, John managed during a period of rapid growth for BSR,” said NIA director Dr. Richard Hodes. “Even beyond NIA and NIH, John and BSR are recognized as a leading force in behavioral and social research on health.”
Before joining NIA, Haaga worked with the Population Reference Bureau, a nonprofit research and education organization, from 1997 to 2004, and he was staff director for the committee on population at the National Academy of Sciences from 1994 to 1997.
In the early 1990s and 1980s, Haaga’s international projects took him to Bangladesh, Malaysia, Kenya, Indonesia, India, Lesotho and Botswana. From 1991 to 1993, he directed research in family planning and maternal and child health for the Population Council. From 1985 to 1991, Haaga was a policy analyst with RAND, and from 1981 to 1984, he was deputy director of the Cornell Nutritional Surveillance Program.
Haaga earned a Ph.D. in public policy in 1983 from the RAND Graduate School in Santa Monica, Calif; an M.A. in international relations in 1978 from Johns Hopkins University; and a B.A. in modern history with first-class honors in 1974 from Oxford University in the United Kingdom.
In retirement, he will serve on the Maryland Commission on Aging, to which he was recently reappointed by Gov. Larry Hogan, and pursue other volunteer efforts, such as teaching graduate courses on demography, economics and social policy. Haaga said that he also has several writing projects about demography and history in mind.
While reflecting on the scientific accomplishments during his tenure and considering what remains to be solved, Haaga said that the recent decline in life expectancy is a complex puzzle that needs urgent attention. Young adults are diagnosed with chronic diseases earlier and reporting disability earlier than baby boomers did, and they are dying younger.
“Discovery is great, but turning discovery into health is the NIH mission,” Haaga said. “We must all rededicate ourselves to figuring out what is going on and turning it around.”