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Unformatted text preview: History of Nutrition They Starved So That Others Be Better Fed: Remembering Ancel Keys and the Minnesota Experiment Leah M. Kalm and Richard D. Semba 1 The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD ABSTRACT During World War II, 36 conscientious objectors participated in a study of human starvation con- ducted by Ancel Keys and his colleagues at the University of Minnesota. The Minnesota Starvation Experiment, as it was later known, was a grueling study meant to gain insight into the physical and psychologic effects of semistarvation and the problem of refeeding civilians who had been starved during the war. During the experiment, the participants were subjected to semistarvation in which most lost 25% of their weight, and many experienced anemia, fatigue, apathy, extreme weakness, irritability, neurological deficits, and lower extremity edema. In 20032004, 18 of the original 36 participants were still alive and were interviewed. Many came from the Historic Peace Churches (Mennonite, Brethren, and Quaker), and all expressed strong convictions about nonviolence and wanting to make a meaningful contribution during the war. Despite ethical issues about subjecting healthy humans to starvation, the men interviewed were unanimous in saying that they would do it all over again, even after knowing the suffering that they had experienced. After the experiment ended, many of the participants went on to rebuilding war-torn Europe, working in the ministries, diplomatic careers, and other activities related to nonviolence. J. Nutr. 135: 13471352, 2005. KEY WORDS: experiment history starvation Keys On November 19, 1944, 36 healthy young men entered the brick confines of the Laboratory of Physiological Hygiene at the University of Minnesota, where they were to embark on a grueling medical experiment. The men had responded to a brochure that asked: Will You Starve That They Be Better Fed? (1) ( Fig. 1 ). World War II was coming to a close, and Allied forces, entering cities in German-occupied Europe, encountered starved, emaciated civilians, many of whom had survived by subsisting on bread, potatoes, and little else. Rel- atively little was known scientifically about human starvation or how to deal with refeeding people who had undergone this extreme degree of deprivation. In 1944 Ancel Keys, then a young professor of physiology at the University of Minnesota and a consultant to the War Department, asked how civilians would be affected physiologically and psychologically by such a limited diet and what would be the most effective way to provide postwar rehabilitation (2). To answer these questions, Keys proposed a bold human experiment: to subject volunteers to semistarvation and then refeed them....
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