Food has always been a special interest to me. Growing up in the Midwest of the US, I was a member of a 4-H vegetable club and the National Junior Vegetable Grower Association. I won prizes at our county and state fairs, and helped pay my tuition at Michigan State University by growing vegetables during summers. I studied food science and physics as an undergraduate and then attended medical school at the University of Michigan.
While a medical student, I conducted a nutritional survey among the Potawanami tribe of Indians in northern Michigan and was struck by the 50 per cent prevalence of type 2 diabetes; understanding this has been a lifelong goal. After completing a residency in internal medicine and an MPH at Harvard, I worked as a faculty member at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania for three years and became impressed with the power of epidemiologic methods to address both clinical and public health issues.
Returning to Harvard, I completed a doctoral degree in epidemiology. During that time it became apparent that epidemiologic approaches were needed to answer many central questions in human nutrition, and I have spent most of my career attempting to bridge these two fields. Much of this research has been through the establishment of three large cohorts, the Nurses’ Health Study, the Nurses’ Health Study II, and the Health Professional’s Follow-up Study, now with over 30 years of follow-up and many repeated measures of diet. Since 1992 I have been chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health.