Nevin S. Scrimshaw, Ph.D., M.D., M.P.H.
World renowned nutrition researcher Nevin S. Scrimshaw Scrimshaw dedicated his career of almost seven decades towards the alleviation of hunger and malnutrition. His work substantially improved the lives of millions of people in dozens of countries around the globe – efforts for which he was recognized with the 1991 World Food Prize. In its citation that year, the prize committee cited Scrimshaw “for his revolutionary accomplishments over six decades, in fighting protein, iodide, and iron deficiencies, developing nutritional supplements, educating generations of experts, and building support for continued advances in food quality around the world.”
Scrimshaw was the founder and honorary president of the Nevin Scrimshaw International Nutrition Foundation, housed at Tufts University in Boston, and founder of the World Hunger Program of the United Nations University, where he was a senior advisor from 1975 to 1998. From 1981-1997, he directed the Food, Nutrition, Human and Social Development Programme at the United Nations University.
He also founded the Department of Nutrition and Food Science at MIT, and was a visiting Professor in the Freidman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University from 1987 until his death. After his retirement at MIT, he was given the prestigious honor of Institute Professor Emeritus.
Nevin Stewart Scrimshaw was born Jan. 20, 1918, in Milwaukee, where his father, Stewart Scrimshaw, was a professor of economics at Marquette University. He received a BA from Ohio Wesleyan University in 1938, his PhD from Harvard University in 1941, his MD from the University of Rochester in 1945, and an MPH from Harvard in 1959.
He married Mary W. Goodrich, a biologist and nutritional anthropologist, in 1941; she worked closely with him throughout his career. The family, including five children, lived for many years in Guatemala, where Scrimshaw was the founding director of the Institute of Nutrition of Central American and Panama (INCAP). He led the early development of this institution from 1949 to 1961.
Using mainly a mixture of cottonseed flour and maize, he was responsible for the development of Incaparina, which is today given to 80 percent of Guatemalan children in their first year of age to combat protein deficiency.
Later, during the 1967 famine in India, Scrimshaw guided the development of a similar food, Balahar, based on peanut flour and wheat. His approach to such nutritional supplements is still the basis of locally produced, lower-cost foods as a preventative of malnutrition in many developing countries.
While at INCAP, Scrimshaw also focused his attention on endemic goiter. He developed a method of iodizing the moist, local salt with non-soluble potassium iodate, reducing goiter prevalence in mothers and children world-wide. These results prompted Scrimshaw to work with governments to require iodation of all salt for human consumption, alleviating endemic goiters in many countries throughout the world.
In the 1960s, Scrimshaw conducted pioneering work on the interrelationship between nutrition and infection, the foundation for all current nutrition and infectious disease-related research.
As chairman of the Malnutrition Panel of the US-Japan Medical Science Program in 1964-74, Scrimshaw was instrumental in the development of a broad program of US support for research on nutrition problems in Southeast Asia. He helped initiate a feeding program called "Operation Beta" for reducing the high prevalence of severely malnourished children in Bangladeshi refugee camps in 1971, where he traveled with Senator Ted Kennedy for the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Refugees.
In 1980, as Institute Professor at MIT, Scrimshaw initiated research on the functional consequences of iron deficiency, a field of study that occupied him until his death.
Dr. Scrimshaw was awarded the World Food Prize in 1991 for his lifetime of action to alleviate malnutrition in developing nations.
Until 2002, Scrimshaw was the editor-in-chief of the United Nations University Food and Nutrition Bulletin, a peer-reviewed publication that he started and is disseminated free to developing country professionals in nutrition throughout the world.
His passion was mentoring young scientists around the world, including leaders like Her Royal Highness, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand. Scrimshaw created extensive educational and training programs in food and nutrition that have benefited over 500 scientists from developing countries. This process has strengthened the research capabilities for developing countries and helped them become nutritionally more self-sufficient.
Scrimshaw wrote or edited more than 20 books and 650 papers on nutrition, food science and public health. He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences, and the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, where he and his daughter, Susan C. Scrimshaw — a public-health specialist who is now president of the Sage Colleges in Troy, N.Y. — became the first father-and-daughter members. His dozens of awards and honors included the designation “Hero of Public Health” by President Vicente Fox of Mexico; a knighthood from the King of Thailand; naming to the Order of Rodolfo Robles by the government of Guatemala; the Bolton L. Corson Medal from the Franklin Institute; and seven honorary doctorates.
He grew lilies, fruit and vegetables on his New Hampshire farm, and loved travel, visiting well over 100 countries in the course of his career, often accompanied by his wife Mary. He used his knowledge of nutrition to create a regime of diet and exercise that he credited with helping to sustain his own good health. He maintained his longstanding love of hiking and downhill skiing well into his 90s, often in the company of some of his five children and eight grandchildren.
Even while he was enjoying skiing, nutrition was always on his mind. Around the Waterville Valley ski area not far from where he lived, it was said that, “Anyone riding the ski lift with Nevin stood a good chance of learning more than they wished to know about their nutritional status and appropriate eating habits.”
Dr. Scrimshaw died in Plymouth, NH, on Friday, Feb. 8. He was 95 and died of congestive heart failure.
He is survived by his wife of 71 years, Mary W. Scrimshaw, five children Susan C. Scrimshaw (Allan Stern), Norman S. Scrimshaw (Cynthia), Nevin B. Scrimshaw, Steven W. Scrimshaw (Megan Hall) and Nathaniel L. Scrimshaw (Jenny Rowe), eight grandchildren, four step-grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. His brother, Norman G. Scrimshaw, was killed in action in France in 1944, during WWII.
The family requests that donations be made to the Nevin Scrimshaw International Nutrition Foundation, or to the Institute for Tropical Ecology and Conservation in Bocas del Toro, Panama (www.itec-edu.org).
Dr. Scrimshaw in Guatemala, 1953
Dr. Srimshaw with wife Mary in Guatemala
Dr. Srimshaw with family at the World Food Prize, 1991
Dr. Srimshaw skiing in New Hampshire, 1998
At this Tribute, hosted by INF on April 20, 2013 at Tufts University in Boston, we shared memories of Dr. Scrimshaw's life and celebrated his accomplishments as a physician, nutrition scientist, mentor, global activist, and founder of the International Nutrition Foundation. In addition to featured participants from the world of nutrition, science and global health, Dr. Susan Scrimshaw spoke on behalf of the Scrimshaw family.
Watch the recording of the Tribute on YouTube:
Below is a collection of obituaries, memorials and honors that have been published in the time since Dr. Scrimshaw's passing. It is inspiring and heartwarming to see all the people and organizations around the world that he has impacted in his lifetime career.