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Home arrow Political science arrow From Hunger to Malnutrition: The Political Economy of Scientific Knowledge in Europe, 1918-1960

Severe Malnutrition in Times of Disaster

In November 1951 the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Nutrition published a technical report, previously presented and approved by the Fourth World Health Assembly, on Prevention and Treatment of Severe Malnutrition in Times of Disaster.[1] The expert committee responsible for the technical report was composed of the following experts:

- Professor M.J.L. Dols, State Adviser on Nutrition; Professor of

Nutritional Science, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands (Chairman)

  • - Professor W. Halden, Chairman, Food and Nutrition Division, Austrian Public Health Association, Graz-Kroisbach, Austria
  • - A. Heilbronner, Maitre des Requetes au Conseil d’Etat; ancien

Directeur au Ministere du Ravitaillement, Paris, France

  • - Miss D.F. Hollingsworth, Ministry of Food, London, United Kingdom
  • - G. Mathieu, Secretaire generale de l’ex-Ministere du Ravitaillement et

des Importations, Brussels, Belgium

- A.K. Muggli, formerly Chef de la Section du Rationnement, Ofice

federale de Guerre pour l’Alimentation, Berne, Switzerland This group acted as consultants for specific sections devoted to food management and organisational aspects. Advice on physiological, clinical and therapeutic aspects was provided by:

- Professor Ancel B. Keys, Director, Laboratory of Physiological

Hygiene, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minn., USA.

Acting as secretaries of the expert committee were:

  • - Dr. F.W. Clements, Chief, Nutrition Section, WHO
  • - Miss T. Norris, Nutrition Division, FAO

The Third World Health Assembly had previously considered the subject of prevention and treatment of severe malnutrition in times of disaster. It requested the Director-General to refer it to the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Nutrition for further study[2], with special attention to the storage of food by governments and private citizens, in order to diminish the risk of severe malnutrition and starvation. The Expert Committee was requested to discuss the overall measures to be taken in planning the conservation and distribution of available stocks of food so as to prevent starvation and severe malnutrition in populations living under conditions of severe food scarcity. It was also asked to discuss: the proper treatment of patients suffering from starvation; the measures to be taken during relief activities to prevent the deterioration of the physical and mental state of persons suffering from varying degrees of undernutrition associated with different types of famine; the organisation of general relief activities in relation to nutrition when famine conditions prevailed; and any other measures that were deemed useful in the prevention of disease and death caused by severe malnutrition and starvation. It was considered, for the purpose of the study, that the whole problem could be divided into three main sections: a) food management; b) the physiological, clinical and therapeutic aspects; c) organisational aspects.

The Director-General of the WHO called together the committee members named above to report on food management and organisational matters and requested Ancel Keys - the American physiologist mentioned in an earlier chapter for his implementation in Minnesota of an experimental research project involving humans that dealt with starvation - to prepare the preliminary statement on the physiological, clinical and therapeutic dimensions of the problem.

  • [1] Prevention and Treatment of Severe Malnutrition in Times of Disaster. Reportapproved by the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Nutrition and presented tothe Fourth World Health Assembly, Geneva, World Health Organization,[November] 1951. The report was originally issued in mimeographed form as WHOdocument A4/4, 20 March 1951.
  • [2] Official Records of the World Health Organization, No. 28, 29.
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