The Great Starvation Experiment

Hair Fusion 728 x 126 Dec 8

Two hundred men wanted to be a part of this experiment; those who were married were dismissed. Two of the requirements were good physical health and good mental health. Thirty-six men were picked averaging 25.5 years old, weighing 152.7 pounds, measuring 5 feet 10 inches in height, having had one year of college and an above-average IQ. Measurements and tests would be taken throughout the experiment, and mandatory journals would be kept. Study participants would be kept busy for the year with jobs totaling fifteen hours a week and walks of twenty-two miles a week. They could also take classes.

Their dreams ranged from feasts to cannibalism. Four men were dropped from the experiment for cheating; another who was too ashamed to drop out of the experiment chopped his fingers off with an axe. Enduring three more months of hunger was just too unthinkable for him.

In 1944, these thirty-six men, conscientious objectors to World War II, started a starvation diet that would last one year. Dr. Ancel Keys and his scientists conducted the experiment at a lab under The University of Minnesota’s Memorial Stadium. His objective was to study starvation and severe malnutrition and then determine how to rehabilitate the hungry.

The experiment involved three stages. The standardization period lasted three months. Here it was determined how many calories were needed for each man to maintain his weight. This was followed by a six-month starvation period, during which their calories were reduced and their diet cut. They had two meals a day and as much coffee and water as they liked. Changes were documented. During the three month rehabilitation period, each man’s recovery was studied and recorded.

Todd Tucker, historian and author of Notre Dame vs. the Klan, was privileged to have interviewed the survivors as well as Dr. Keys himself. The documentation of the entire experiment is a fascinating read. Tucker writes about other hungry periods in history, too – about the desperation during the Siege of Leningrad, for instance, when some people made soup out of their wallpaper as they remembered wallpaper paste was made from potatoes. He writes about hunger in America as well; rationing in the United States in 1942 during World War II.

The author delves into the past with Dr. Keys and the survivors. Readers learn about how these men grew up, their early beliefs, their early jobs, and their family life. They discover how these men came to the experiment, endured it, and how their lives changed afterward.

Dr. Keys lived to be 100, and he was a busy man all his life. He first studies were on eels; his later studies were on high altitudes and on designing rations for the army. He published The Biology of Human Starvation, a work of 1,385 pages, after the starvation experiment was complete. He went on to study more in the health field, including heart disease and cholesterol. He also wrote two bestselling cookbooks which contained medical information as well.

The human body can endure much. The eight pages of photographs included in the book capture some of the reality of this experience. Many of the significant contributions made to science because of this doctor, this experiment, and the sacrifices of these men are captured in Todd Tucker’s important book.

To win a copy of this book, be the tenth person to email the title of the last non-fiction book you read to [email protected]