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What We Can Learn from the Minnesota Starvation Study

During World War II, Ancel Keys and the University of Minnesota conducted the most revelatory experiments to look at the consequences of human starvation.

For those who aren’t familiar with the study, its purpose was dual: to determine the physiological and psychological effects of severe and prolonged dietary restriction and the effectiveness of dietary rehabilitation strategies that would serve as a base to guide the Allied relief assistance to famine victims in Europe and Asia at the end of the war.

Its laboratory simulation of human starvation was controversial, but all of the 36 men selected for the study were willing volunteers, many of whom did the experiment as a way to make a meaningful contribution to the war.

Over the 24 weeks of the active phase of the year-long study, these men consumed an extremely reduced calorie diet to lose 25 percent of their body weight. The diet consisted of 1,800 calories and was comprised of the foods eaten during the war era, like potatoes, macaroni, turnips and dark bread. They were also instructed to expend 3,008 calories a day and walk 22 miles each week.