In 1963, UZH created the first chair and institute of Public Health (then Social and Preventive Medicine) in Switzerland. Professor Meinrad Schär († 2007), the former deputy director of the Swiss Office of Public Health, served as the first chair and director of the institute until 1988.

Prof. Felix Gutzwiller followed and led the institute until 2013. Prof. Gutzwiller was instrumental in creating close ties between the institute and the population of the Canton of Zurich through the UZH Travel Clinic and the Prevention and Health Promotion unit. During his term, the institute focused on physical, psychological and social determinants of health and substantially expanded in the areas of epidemiology and biostatistics.

In 2013, Prof. Milo Puhan was appointed as Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health and director of the institute.