In Memoriam: Nevin Scrimshaw, HSPH alumnus and global nutrition pioneer
February 27, 2013 — Nevin Scrimshaw, a nutritionist who pioneered the use of protein supplements to save the lives of children at risk of dying from malnutrition, passed away on February 8, 2013. He was 95.
Scrimshaw, MPH ’59, who received HSPH’s Alumni Award of Merit in 1995, devoted his seven-decade career to the field of international nutrition. Soon after training as a physician, he moved his young family from the University of Rochester to Guatemala, where he founded the Institute of Nutrition of Central America and Panama. His professors told him that by devoting himself to the then-exotic specialty he would be throwing away his career, Scrimshaw told the Boston Globe in 2008.
In the 1950s, Scrimshaw pioneered the use of indigenous protein sources to create an inexpensive mixture that could be fed to young children to combat deadly malnutrition. His product, Incaparina, is still given to 80 percent of Guatemalan children during their first year. He guided the production of a similar food in India, and his approach is still used to develop other such products in developing countries.
Scrimshaw also worked to reduce endemic goiter, a thyroid condition in children caused by a mother’s iodine deficiency. He developed a method of iodizing local salt and worked with governments to require iodation of all table salt. He also was a leader in research on the link between malnutrition and infection.
In 1982, Scrimshaw founded the International Nutrition Foundation, which provides training and works on policy issues related to food and nutrition in developing countries. He also started a world hunger program at the United Nations University in New York and a nutrition department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He served on the faculty of MIT and was a visiting professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. He received the World Food Prize in 1991.
“We are saddened by the loss of Dr. Scrimshaw,” former colleagues Gretchen Glode Berggren, SM ’67, and Warren L. Berggren, MPH ’63, DPH ’67, said in a statement. “He greatly influenced community health programs in Haiti, where we worked together, and was an inspirational mentor to both of us.”