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Seminar on History and Philosophy of Science

Thursday, April 27, 2023
4:00pm to 5:30pm
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Dabney Hall 110 (Treasure Room)
Malnutrition and the "Quality of People" in the Early Cold War
Hannah LeBlanc, Howard E. and Susanne C. Jessen Postdoctoral Instructor in STEM and Inequality, Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences, Caltech,

In the 1950s and 1960s, an international cohort of nutrition experts shared the conviction that protein malnutrition was one of the world's most urgent public health problems. They believed protein deficiency was not only widespread in what they called the developing countries, but that it permanently damaged the "quality of people" by limiting brain development in childhood. In this talk, I ask how protein became a public health problem and why it was compelling not only to nutrition experts but also to development specialists, policymakers, and journalists. This "protein gap" theory had its roots in British colonial medicine and was supported by the growth of international public health after World War II. It appealed, I argue, in large part because it purported to explain differences in populations without reference to genetics or race, in a moment in which scientists were disavowing such eugenic thought. I will then turn to the consequences of the protein gap theory, in nutrition science and in nutrition policy.

For more information, please contact Fran Tise by phone at 626-395-3609 or by email at [email protected].