Posts tagged: nutrition

Dr. Eleanor Mason and Early Research on Basal Metabolic Rate of Indian Women

By , March 5, 2019

Portrait of Eleanor Dewey Mason, circa 1956. Image courtesy of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

As we prepare to celebrate International Women’s Day, it has been a pleasure to research and highlight Dr. Eleanor Mason, a student and visiting scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health, now known as the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Dr. Eleanor Dewey Mason was born in Tura, Assam, India in 1898 to American Baptist missionary parents. After graduating from Newton High School, she earned her BA from Mt. Holyoke College (1919) and an MA from Wellesley College (1921). Her early interest was in zoology as well as missionary work, and after spending a year as a research assistant in genetics with the Carnegie Institute in New York City, she took advantage of an opportunity to become a zoology lecturer in India at Madras University.

On her first furlough from Madras, she came to Boston to pursue an MA (1928) from Radcliffe College. Later, she returned to Radcliffe and earned her PhD (1934). These degrees from Radcliffe involved vital statistic courses taken at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), as well as courses taken at Harvard Medical School (HMS).

It is important to note that at this particular time, women took courses but could not receive degrees from HSPH or HMS. While the Harvard-MIT School for Health Officers (1913-1921) credentialed women on the same basis as men (with certificates in public health), this practice ended in 1921 with the withdrawal of MIT and an establishment of a Harvard degree-granting school of public health. Therefore, it isn’t surprising to see Dr. Mason listed in the 1927 HSPH course catalog as a vital statistics student, even though she is not considered a graduate of the program.

The time Dr. Mason spent at Harvard was seminal to her professional career. Her early interest in studying systemic zoology expanded to an interest in human physiology or, more specifically, how race and climate influenced metabolism. Dr. Mason also met Dr. F.G. Benedict, Director of the Carnegie Nutrition Laboratory, while studying at Harvard. Dr. Benedict had recently become interested in the possibility of racial differences in metabolism, and his lab provided Dr. Mason with financing and equipment for her research project. With this backing secured, Dr. Mason returned to Madras to resume teaching at the Women’s Christian College and complete her thesis–the first to establish basal metabolic norms for Indian women. This research was exceptional for its time, as Dr. Mason focused on non-traditional subjects. Two copies of Dr. Mason’s 1934 thesis, The metabolism of women in South India, with a note on the vital capacity of the lungs in South Indian women, are available at Harvard from the Center for the History of Medicine and the Harvard University Archives

In 1934 and 1940, Dr. Mason published on the basal metabolic rate of South Indian women in comparison to British and American women who travel from temperate to tropical climates. Her Western research subjects were colleagues who had also come to Madras to teach at the Women’s Christian College. Some of the women experienced a 10% drop in their metabolism as a result of the tropical climate, while others experienced no change at all. Dr. Mason’s results did show consistently that weight decreased and pulse rates fell in warmer climates, and that the basal metabolic rate of South Indian women was decidedly lower than that of British and American women.

In 1942, her research focused more on nutrition in rat models, with the intention of demonstrating the inadequacies of the rice diet common among the poor in South India. A 1945 paper examined the supplementary effects of casein, calcium lactate and butter, singularly or combined, on the growth of young rats. Casein and calcium lactate were found to have a highly significant effect in promoting growth, while butter affected both growth and general condition adversely. Casein, when added to butter, counteracted the negative effect of butter and converted it into a positive effect (Mason 1945). In a 1946 paper, she and her team experimented further with ragi (a cereal crop also known as Eleusine coracana, or “finger millet”) and found that, when substituted for rice, it had a marked stimulating effect on growth directly proportional to the amount given.

In addition to her physiological research in basal metabolism, and after years of teaching, in 1948 Dr. Mason became the third principal of the Women’s Christian College. In this role, she pioneered a home science courses for the students. In 1951, Mt. Holyoke College awarded her a honorary doctorate of science. In 1956, Dr. Mason retired from her role at Women’s Christian College and was invited by the University of Bombay to continue her research in the laboratory of Dr. A. Sreenivasan in the Department of Chemical Technology.

She moved into the Missionary Settlement for University Women, an interdenominational hostel comprised of fifty-eight British and Indian colleagues. Dr. Mason’s laboratory was modest: a room with two beds and measuring equipment, and connected to her own bedroom. Research subjects would be asked to fast for twelve hours. Once they arrived at the lab, they were instructed to lie quietly on one of the research beds and breathe into a spirometer for three eight-minute stretches while Dr. Mason and her assistant Mary Jacob, from Travancore, measured pulse, blood pressure, and temperature. After a day’s work, Dr. Mason would spend her evenings at the missionary leading prayers with the other hostel residents. She stayed in the settlement until 1964, then spent several years as a member of the ecumenical Farncombe Community in England before returning permanently to the United States in 1970.

It is clear from newspaper articles and from personal accounts that Dr. Mason returned to Boston to continue her involvement at the Harvard School of Public Health, likely as a researcher but also potentially as an educator. The Radcliffe Quarterly confirms that Dr. Mason was a visiting scientist at HSPH from 1963-1964. Contemporary faculty such as Joseph Brain and James Butler reflect fondly on their brief overlap with her at the school, including her involvement with physiology research and teaching, now considered part of the Department of Environmental Health.

In addition to her career at Harvard, Dr. Mason was a member of the tertiary Anglican Franciscan group, Christa Prema Seva Sangha, of the Society of the Companions of the Holy Cross. In later life, she served as a communicant and a parish receptionist for the Church of the Advent. She was also part of Windham House, the Graduate Training Center for Women of the Episcopal Church, which was a center for women studying theology and other disciplines.

Dr. Mason passed away in 1995 at the age of 97. Her body was donated to Harvard Medical School before being buried at Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain.

Although the Center for the History of Medicine does not hold any unpublished records from Dr. Mason besides her thesis, records of her professional career can be found scattered across multiple repositories, including:

I wish to thank Jim Butler, Senior Lecturer on Physiology, for sharing stories and resources about Dr. Eleanor Mason, and for connecting me to the archives at the Society of the Companions of the Holy Cross, whose secondary source materials served as the backbone of this post. Dr. Mason was a colleague as well as a dear friend of his family, and without his persistence her story likely would have remained dormant in the archives. I also would like to thank Dr. Joe Brain, Cecil K. and Philip Drinker Professor of Environmental Physiology, and Yechaan (Eric) Joo, a graduate student at the Harvard Chan School, for their research on Dr. Mason’s publications and her connection to the Department of Environmental Health.

For a complete list of Dr. Mason’s publications, please visit the History of Public Health at Harvard LibGuide.

Fredrick J. Stare Papers Open to Research

By , March 29, 2018
Fredrick J. Stare at desk, undated.

Fredrick J. Stare at desk, undated. H MS c499. From the Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine.

The Center for the History of Medicine is pleased to announce that the Fredrick J. Stare papers, 1912-2002 (inclusive), 1950-1999 (bulk), are now open to research. Fredrick Stare was Distinguished Professor of Nutrition Emeritus and Founder and Chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts. His research focused on the relationship between diet and disease, and promoted a low-fat diet for minimizing the risk of cardiovascular disease. He is known for his nutrition recommendations in the popular media, and spent his career fighting what he considered nutrition quackery and misinformation.

Fredrick J. Stare (1910-2002) received his B.S. (1931), M.S. (1932), and Ph.D. (1934) in biochemistry and nutrition from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and his M.D. (1941) from the University of Chicago, Illinois. He was invited in 1942 by Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School to found the Department of Nutrition, the first nutrition program in the world connected with a school of public health or medicine. He served as chair of the department through 1976. He fundraised heavily throughout his tenure in the department, soliciting donations from many food industry corporations and interest groups.

Fredrick J. Stare during a conference at Trout Lake, Wisconsin, visiting the chemistry laboratory at which he worked during the summers of 1929-1931. 1983 May 18.

Fredrick J. Stare during a conference at Trout Lake, Wisconsin, visiting the chemistry laboratory at which he worked during the summers of 1929-1931. 1983 May 18. H MS c499. From the Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine.

Stare’s research focused on diet’s relationship to health and disease, particularly cardiovascular health, obesity, and cancer. His major studies included: the 1960s Ireland-Boston Brothers Heart Study, which studied how environmental, lifestyle, and diet factors contribute to heart disease; lysine fortification studies in Tunisia and Thailand in the 1960s and 1970s; and several 1970s studies on diet and cardiovascular health in boarding schools, which resulted in mass-market availability of polyunsaturated margarine. His frequent research collaborators included David M. Hegsted (1914-2009), Bernard Lown (born 1921), and Elizabeth M. Whelan (1943-2014), among many others. Stare advocated throughout his career for a low fat diet as a way to minimize risk for cardiovascular disease, and used his industry connections to push for low-fat and multigrain ingredients in manufactured foods. He opposed fad diets, and fought against what he considered nutrition quackery or misinformation. To these ends, he used his nationally-syndicated newspaper column, “Food and Your Health,” and radio program, “Healthline,” to provide research-based nutrition advice to the general public. With Elizabeth M. Whelan, he was also a co-founder of the American Council on Science and Health, which was founded to research and distribute evidence-based health and nutrition information to the wider population.

Harvard School of Public Health Nutrition Building architectural drawing, circa 1960. By Voorhees, Walker, Smith, Smith, and Haines.

Harvard School of Public Health Nutrition Building architectural drawing, circa 1960. By Voorhees, Walker, Smith, Smith, and Haines. H MS c499. A note at the bottom of the drawing reads, “Nutrition Research Laboratories – A Gift of General Foods Corporation”. From the Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine.

The papers are the product of Fredrick J. Stare’s professional, research, publishing, travel, and personal activities throughout the course of his career. The bulk of the collection consists of: Stare’s personal and professional correspondence; and administrative and fundraising records generated through his professional appointments and service in professional organizations. The collection also includes: research records of various projects; manuscript drafts, reprints, and clippings of Stare’s nutrition and public health publications; conference and public speaking records; photographs taken during Stare’s professional and research activities; travel itineraries and journals; appointment calendars; collected educational audiovisual recordings on nutrition; and collected publications and grey literature on nutrition and public health.

For more information on Stare and his collection, please view the collection’s online finding aid. For information about accessing the collection, please contact Public Services.

Harvard Prevention Research Center and Steven L. Gortmaker Collections Open to Research

By , June 29, 2017
Fitness Folder, from the Harvard Prevention Research Center's Planet Health Curriculum.

Fitness Folder, from the Harvard Prevention Research Center’s Planet Health Curriculum. P-DT08.01, Series 00598. From the Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine.

The Center for the History of Medicine is pleased to announce the opening of two collections: the records of the Harvard Prevention Research Center (HPRC) and the papers of the HPRC’s Director, Steven L. Gortmaker.

The Harvard Prevention Research Center on Nutrition and Physical Activity was founded in 1998 at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, to work with community and governmental organizations in the research, development, and implementation of school- and community-based youth intervention programs to encourage better health habits. The HPRC has conducted a number of intervention research projects, including: the randomized control trial of the Planet Health curriculum, which is used in middle schools to teach healthy decision making about nutrition, exercise, and leisure activities; and the Play Across Boston project, which surveyed and evaluated the availability of afterschool fitness programs for Boston-area youth, and studied how access and individual family characteristics influence youth physical activity.

The HPRC records include administrative records and research data for both Planet Health and Play Across Boston. Planet Health records include student fitness questionnaires, television viewing worksheets and graphs, financial records, Wellness Workshops administrative records, and student participation records. Play Across Boston records include: student surveys (concerning health and exercise habits, demographics, access to fitness programs, and other topics); and fitness program provider surveys (concerning program details, cost and accessibility, and participant numbers and demographics).

Steven L. Gortmaker.

Steven L. Gortmaker, M-AD06. From the Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine.

In addition to directing the HPRC, Steven L. Gortmaker is Professor of the Practice of Health Sociology in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. His research focuses primarily on the health and mortality risks affecting children and adolescents (particularly low-income and minority), and interventions for mitigating those risks. He served as Principal Investigator on a number of HPRC initiatives, including Planet Health, Play Across Boston, the Out of School Nutrition and Physical Activity Initiative (OSNAP), and is also Co-Director of the Childhood Obesity Intervention Cost-Effectiveness Study (CHOICES). In 1997, he was awarded the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Investigator Award in Health Policy Research.

Gortmaker’s papers comprise his research and teaching records generated during his career. The collection includes research data and administrative records from a number of projects, including: an obesity research project using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey; the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Rural Infant Care Program; and organ donation research for the Partnership for Organ Donation. The papers also include Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health teaching records for courses related to HIV, social behavior, and statistics.

The collections were processed as part of the Bridging the Research Data Divide project, funded by a Hidden Collections grant administered by the Council on Library and Information Resources. For more information on the project, please contact the project’s principal investigator, Emily R. Novak Gustainis, Deputy Director of the Center for the History of Medicine.

More information on the collections may be found in their online finding aids: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HMS.Count:med00242 (Harvard Prevention Research Center Records); and http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HMS.Count:med00243  (Steven L. Gortmaker papers).

Processing of the Harvard Prevention Research Center Records

By , March 29, 2017
Fitness Folder, from the Harvard Prevention Research Center's Planet Health Curriculum.

Fitness Folder, from the Harvard Prevention Research Center’s Planet Health Curriculum. P-DT08.01, Series 00598. From the Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine.

The Center is pleased to announce that the records of the Harvard Prevention Research Center (HPRC), 1992-2003, are currently being processed as part of the Bridging the Research Data Divide project. The Harvard Prevention Research Center at the Harvard School of Public Health (as of 2014, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health), was founded in 1998. The Center works with local, community, and government organizations to research, develop, implement, and refine school- and community-based youth intervention programs to encourage better health habits among youth. Programs particularly focus on improving nutrition and exercise habits, in order to lower the risk of obesity and chronic disease in children and youth. As of 2016, the Center is nested under the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences. Steven L. Gortmaker (born 1949) serves as Principal Investigator and Director, and Angie Cradock is the Deputy Director.

The collection is a product of two research projects and educational interventions developed and implemented by the Harvard Prevention Research Center under the direction of Steven Gortmaker: Planet Health (1995-), funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and a university gift; and the Play Across Boston project (1999-2001), funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Planet Health is a middle-school-based wellness curriculum developed for use by teachers and physical education instructors to teach healthy decision-making regarding nutrition, exercise, and leisure activities, while also supporting learning in traditional subject areas. Planet Health records, dated 1992-1997, were developed during the randomized control trial conducted to produce the curriculum, and include: student activity and diet worksheets; teacher and student focus group transcripts and recordings; wellness workshop records; student-made activity graphs; analyzed data; and research administrative records. Play Across Boston was a collaborative initiative with Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society, to survey and evaluate the availability of after-school fitness activity programs for Boston-area youth, and to determine how both access to these resources and individual family characteristics influence youth physical activity. The project surveyed youth participation in 237 programs in the greater Boston area. Play Across Boston records are dated 2000-2003, and consist of: student surveys regarding participation in organized physical activity outside of school hours; and fitness program provider surveys concerning details of program offerings and student participation during the school year and summer vacation months.

The collection is expected to be open to research in 2017. Processing of the collection is part of the Bridging the Research Data Divide project, funded by a Hidden Collections grant administered by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). For more information on the project, please contact the project’s Principal Investigator, Emily R. Novak Gustainis, Deputy Director of the Center for the History of Medicine.

New Acquisition: The Fredrick J. Stare Papers

By , November 8, 2016
Stare

Dr. Frederick John Stare participating in a nationwide “March of Medicine” telecast on March 11, 1953. The half-hour show, one of a series being sponsored by a drug company and the American Medical Association, stressed problems of obesity and suggestions for dieting. Courtesy of the Center for the History of Medicine (Harvard School of Public Health Dean’s Annual Report, 1953-1954).

The Center for the History of Medicine is pleased to announce the acquisition of the personal and professional papers of the late Fredrick J. Stare (1910-2002). Dr. Stare was an American nutritionist regarded as one of the country’s most influential teachers of nutrition. In 1942, Stare founded the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, now the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. This was the first such nutrition program in the United States not to be associated with an agriculture school. Dr. Stare began with a staff of three, but by the time he retired in 1976 it exceeded 150 people, and the department was considered a leader in nutrition research. In 1978, Stare co-founded and served as chairman of the Board of Directors for the American Council on Science and Health, which he served on until his death in 2002.

Stare fought to improve nutrition for children in developing nations and supported the process of fluoridating public drinking water to prevent tooth decay. He defended food preservatives and chemical additives as beneficial and necessary at a time when naturalists countered that additives were detrimental. He was a firm believer in the essential goodness of the typical American diet, holding that “prudence and moderation” were the key to healthy eating. He was also an early advocate of the benefits of regularly drinking water throughout the day. He founded the journal Nutrition Reviews, and from 1945 onward wrote a syndicated newspaper column, Food and Your Health. His publications included Living Nutrition; Eat OK – Feel OK; Food for Today’s Teens; The Executive Diet; Food for Fitness after Fifty; Dear Dr Stare: What Shall I Eat?; and Panic in the Pantry.

At the height of McCarthyism, Stare won notoriety for hiring Bernard Lown, a cardiologist who had been accused of holding communist sympathies. Lown went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985 as one of the leaders of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), a non-partisan federation of national medical groups in 64 countries who share the common goal of creating a more peaceful and secure world freed from the threat of nuclear annihilation. In addition to Dr. Stare’s records, the papers of Bernard Lown as well as the records of the IPPNW are available for research at the Center for the History of Medicine.

For more about Dr. Stare, please read this memorial written by the Harvard Crimson immediately following Dr. Stare’s death in 2002, or his obituaries in the New York Times and the Economist.

His collection, which is not yet available for research, includes correspondence, alpha files, university administrative records, grey literature and publications, photographs, and films. For more information about the collection, contact Public Services at chm@hms.harvard.edu.

Discovery Fund Enables Research Access in Manuscript Collections

Negative 3049, Salpetriere Hospital records, H MS c30, August 11, 1899. From the Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine.

Making accessible our hidden collections is one of the most urgent challenges facing the Center. Through the Discovery Fund, the Center seeks to reduce the number of inaccessible and unprocessed collections by using financial gifts to create temporary processing support positions.

Harnessing 2010 Discovery Fund donations, the Center was able to transcribe and translate from French original index entries for approximately 16,800 glass plate negatives created at the Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris, 1882-1944. Index entries, now in a Microsoft Access database, will increase access to this collection of international interest for which no descriptive information was available. The negatives are the product of the unprecedented use of medical imaging by revolutionary neurologist and psychologist J. M. (Jean Martin) Charcot and his disciples and are as important to the history of photography as to the history of medicine.

Discovery funds were applied to listing the papers of nutritionist D. Mark (David Mark) Hegsted (1952-1978), whose research demonstrated the effects of specific dietary fats and cholesterol on serum cholesterol levels. Hegsted, a founding member of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), among the first such departments in a medical or public health school in the world, was instrumental in the development of the federal “Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”

Ordinarily, resource constraints make it difficult to rapidly respond to researchers’ requests for access to unprocessed collections; the Discovery fund provides the flexibility we need to shift staff to the most in-demand collections at the point they are needed for research. Discovery funds made it possible to “process on demand” reproductive health giant John Rock’s recently acquired personal papers, 1915-1981. Rock, the co-inventor of the birth control pill, was the subject of a Center symposium in March 2009, when the collection of his professional records was opened to research. His personal papers, now being listed, will be available for use shortly.

Many thanks to our Discovery Fund donors. To find out how to join them, see our website.

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