Wednesday 3 July 2013, 9.00AM
According to the WHO, 925 million people in the world are undernourished and 1.5 billion adults over 20 are overweight. From the 19th century onwards, nutritional guidelines and standards have been devised to both counteract and measure these dual problems. In 1894
W. O. Atwater of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), for instance, drew up the first dietary standards for protein, total calories, fat and carbohydrates for the American population. Seebohm Rowntree used Atwater’s and the work of other early nutritional scientists in his famous study of poverty in York in 1901 to discover the minimum calories and nutritional balance needed before people got ill or lost weight,
Yet nutritional guidelines and standards have not only a long but also an evolving history. The USDA, for example, issued a food wheel in the 1940s that was gradually replaced by a food pyramid and more recently by a food plate, while major supermarkets in the UK have recently replaced the Guidelines Daily Amount (GDA) with traffic-light labels on their food products. And the history of nutritional guidelines and standards is contested, especially when norms created for particular populations are imposed upon others. The tendency for proxies for good and poor nutrition to universalise the human condition has, however, been challenged. For example, with the rise in obesity levels, the Body Mass Index (BMI), which was first devised in the early 19th century, has increasingly come under attack as a useful means to measure obesity. And many scholars fiercely criticised Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman’s use Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) and other nutritional standards to assess the health of the American slave population and make inferences about the profitability of American slavery.
By bringing together scholars from various fields, this one-day conference will explore the politics behind and the usefulness of past and present nutritional guidelines and standards.
Location: Berrick Saul Building, University of York