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History of Nutrition Research at Harvard

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Founding of the Department

Harvard's Department of Nutrition was founded in 1942 as a result of a generous grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. Initially, it was located in the Department of Biochemistry in Harvard Medical School, but it was administered in the School of Public Health. 

In 1946, the department moved into larger space, acquired by the School of Public Health and in 1962 it moved into a new building built to its specifications  By then it had grown from one of the smallest to one of the largest departments in either school. The department was responsible for teaching nutrition in both the School of Public Health and the Medical School.  It was the first department of nutrition established in any medical school or school of public health in the world. 

Dr. Fredrick Stare served as chairman for 34 years and since 1976 has been an emeritus professor. In 1992 he was appointed distinguished professor emeritus.  Dr. Walter Willett has been Chairman since 1991. 

Despite its original intent, this Department of Nutrition has evolved into a HSPH-based program with little involvement at Harvard Medical School.

While it was hoped that the teaching of nutrition at Harvard would include students in other parts of the university, initial efforts have involved primarily the Schools of Public Health, Medicine, Dentistry and the affiliated hospitals and clinics.  The Harvard Human Nutrition Program sponsors monthly seminars, given by individuals in various departments of the Schools of Public Health and Medicine and by visiting lecturers, as well as an annual symposium. 

A Clinical Nutrition Research Center supported by the NIH was established in 1992. Over 100 faculty in the HMS-affiliated hospitals have been identified as having major clinical or research interests in nutrition, but usually these investigators have a primary affiliation in other departments (e.g., Medicine, Surgery, Pediatrics, Preventive and Primary Care Medicine) or hospitals. One of the main purposes of establishing a Division of Nutrition at Harvard Medical School is to have these clinical and research faculty in closer touch for projects of mutual interest and to provide a more efficient use of resources within this discipline.

Formation of the HMS Division of Nutrition

The Division of Nutrition was established at Harvard Medical School in 1996 by the Faculty Council. This Division was charged with coordinating all nutritional activities involving education, research and clinical care between the medical school and its major teaching hospitals – Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Children’s Hospital, and the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

It was the Faculty Council’s view that Nutrition as a discipline would have more visibility at Harvard as an independent Division within the medical school. Furthermore, this Division was charged to interact with the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health and the Harvard Human Nutrition Program at the same institution.

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Updated 1/25/2008