American Society For Nutrition

How to Move Nutrition Science Forward

How to Move Nutrition Science Forward

Excellence in Nutrition Research and Practice
Posted on 04/30/2014 at 10:40:45 AM by Suzanne Price
By David Despain, ASN Meeting Blogger

Best known for fathering modern nutrition in the United States, for pioneering nutrition research and education in the country, and for having developed the system of measuring energy in food that is used throughout the world today, a lesser known fact about USDA's first chief of nutritional investigations Wilbur Olin Atwater was that he also fought for our right to enjoy a good stiff drink.

In the early 1880s, the US temperance movement was in full force and widely promoted the myth that alcoholic beverages were “poison,” destructive to families, and that drinking them served only to fill the greedy pockets of saloons and breweries. One of the most influential women in the movement was Mary Hunt, who in alliance with the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) had managed to convince politicians to pass laws that required physiology textbooks in schools to encourage complete abstinence of alcohol and its prohibition.

Vehemently protesting the measure was Atwater, arguing that alcohol was not “poison” and that children should only be taught the “simple facts” supported by science and that those facts be free of “exaggerated theories” and “errors.” But, for his position, he suffered personal criticism by Hunt, as well as attacks on his career and on his funding from the USDA, even his ability to publish scientific papers.

Biostatistician David Allison, professor at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, and 2014 recipient of the W.O. Atwater Lectureship awarded by ASN, drew parallels between Atwater's and some of his own experiences, such as his publications regarding the science of sugar-sweetened beverages, in fighting for rigorous research in obesity and nutrition.

Read the entirety of David's blog post on his blog, Evolving Health.