• In Memoriam – Professor Nevin S. Scrimshaw

    In Memoriam – Professor Nevin S. Scrimshaw
    Professor Nevin S. Scrimshaw
    PhD, MD, MPH
    January 20, 1918 – February 8, 2013

    Professor Nevin Scrimshaw passed away in Plymouth, New Hampshire at the age of 95. A world-renowned nutritionist who devoted almost seven decades towards alleviating malnutrition and hunger, Scrimshaw improved the lives of millions around the world.

    Dr Nevin Stewart Scrimshaw received a BA from Ohio Wesleyan University in 1938, PhD from Harvard University in 1941, MD from the University of Rochester in 1945, and an MPH from Harvard in 1959. His wife, Mary W Goodrich, a biologist and nutritional anthropologist, worked closely with him throughout his career.

    Soon after training as a physician, Dr Scrimshaw moved his family to Guatemala where he was the founding director of the Institute of Nutrition of Central America and Panama (INCAP). In the 1950s when protein deficiency was seriously affecting the growth and development of young children from poor households, Dr Scrimshaw and INCAP developed an indigenous high-protein, low-cost food supplement (Incaparina) that saved the lives of many malnourished children. This revolutionary concept remained the basis for the development of nutritious and affordable food supplements worldwide.

    Another insightful legacy of Dr Scrimshaw was his pioneering work in the 1960s on the interrelationship between nutrition and infection. His classic book “Interactions of Nutrition and Infection”1 remains a foundation for nutrition and infectious disease-related research today.

    Dr Scrimshaw was truly a visionary leader, ahead of his time. He initiated the World Hunger Program of the United Nations University in 1975, which was succeeded by the Food and Nutrition Program for Human and Social Development. He continued to be its adviser for more than two decades. Until 2002, he was the Chief Editor of the United Nations University Food and Nutrition Bulletin, a much respected publication that he started, and disseminated free to professionals in nutrition from developing countries.

    In 1982, Dr Scrimshaw founded the International Nutrition Foundation (INF), with the aim of ”building capacity in developing country individuals and institutions in the areas of nutrition research, policy and programming so they can effectively address issues of food, nutrition and hunger in their countries” (www.inffoundation.org). Subsequent to the death of Dr Scrimshaw, the INF has set up a Nevin Scrimshaw Foundation Advancement Fund to honour his vast contributions to population health and nutrition in particular.

    For his lifetime of dedication to alleviating malnutrition, Dr Scrimshaw was bestowed numerous awards and honours. Among them is the World Food Prize in 1991, 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.

    My personal friendship with Dr Scrimshaw began when he was one of the two external examiners of my doctorate thesis, way back in 1984. I recalled both he and the other examiner, the late Dr Derrick Jelliffe, provided truly inspiring words of wisdom to a fledgling nutritionist.

    A few years later in 1988, I had the privilege to meet Dr Scrimshaw for the first time. Despite his enormous international work demands, Dr Scrimshaw took time to spend several days as an external assessor of the BSc (Hons) Nutrition and Community Health programme, offered by the Department of Human Ecology, Universiti Putra Malaysia. I wonder if any of the senior students can remember being interviewed by him as part of their assessment. In subsequent meetings with Dr Scrimshaw, he never failed to provide words of encouragement.




    Asian Congress of Nutrition, Taipeh, 2007. Prof Khor (extreme left), Prof
    Scrimshaw, Prof Le Thi Hop and Prof Nguyen Cong Khan




    We have lost a staunch supporter of nutrition research and public health programmes with the passing of Professor Nevin Scrimshaw.

    Prof Khor Geok Lin
    International Medical University


    1 Scrimshaw NS, Taylor CE & Gordon JE (1968). Interactions of Nutrition and Infection. Geneva: World Health Organization.