Now 95, he's glad he starved for months to help U of M research


Nearly 70 years after he endured months of starvation as part of a World War II-era experiment at the University of Minnesota, Marshall Sutton says he's glad he did it.

In an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation, Sutton recounts his participation in what's been called the Minnesota Starvation Experiment.

Three dozen conscientious objectors were recruited to help researchers learn the best techniques for nursing starving people back to health. Results of the 1944 experiment helped guide the re-feeding of Europeans who were victims of mass starvation during the war, the BBC news magazine Witness says.

Sutton, who is now 95 and living in a Quaker community in Baltimore, tells the magazine: "I wanted to identify with the suffering in the world at that time. I wanted to do something for society. I wanted to put myself in a little danger."

Three of the 36 men dropped out of the experiment but most persevered, losing about 25 percent of their body weight and suffering psychological effects.

Sutton remembers that even though he had agreed to starve himself for science, he didn't want to deprive his girlfriend. He tells the BBC he took her to the most expensive restaurant in Minneapolis, but she could not bring herself to enjoy the meal in front of him.

Sutton says effects of his experience lingered even after his calorie intake was restored to a normal level. "I had a wonderful sense of having all the food I wanted, but I didn't have the strength - I was so happy and I was eating, but I wasn't normal," he tells the BBC.

The study was conducted by one of the university's most prominent scientists, Ancel Keys. Decades later, it is still cited by those who study nutrition and eating disorders. Closer looks at the experiment turned up in the Journal of Nutrition in 2005 and on the blog of British anti-obesity author Zoe Harcombe in 2009.

The U of M's health and eating laboratory offers an overview of the experiment.

The university has also posted a video in which another of the men who took part, Jim Graham, looks back at the study. The University of Minnesota Press published a 2007 book by Todd Tucker called The Great Starvation Experiment.

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