Friday, July 25, 2008

The Great Starvation Experiment

I'm finally back from my business trip to Minneapolis.

It was a productive trip with good people and good food but it was way too much time away from my family.

Since I was in Minnesota, I figured it was a great opportunity to try and do some site seeing.

Specifically - I wanted to see the actual site of the Great Starvation Experiment conducted by Ancel Keys in 1945 at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

This study is a favorite of mine. Mostly because of how misunderstood it is by modern day scientists.

I know it had an abundance of flaws in it's design:

  • No Control Group
  • Subjects were not blinded
  • Researchers were not blinded
  • Selection Bias
  • Not published in a peer reviewed research Journal
  • Even the possibility of 'fish-bowl effect'

But, despite these large errors, it is still a very telling story of the quest to better understand human physiology in a day-and-age where this was still a very fledgling science (1945).

Truthfully, this was a very poorly conducted calorie restriction study. However, looking past this we can see that the series of "case studies" that make up this trial are a great example of the effects that famine, captivity, depression and social grouping can have on the human body and probably more importantly, the human psyche.

Most importantly- as stated by Dr. Keys himself, this was not a starvation study, the starvation was only a necessary tool so that they could better study rehabilitation from starvation.

So while crude in it's design and conclusions, it still greatly advanced our understanding of the connection between the human psyche and the human body.

I was not able to make it to the football stadium at the University of Minnesota (the site of the experiment was destroyed but apparently there is still some pieces of the lab in a museum on campus) because my schedule was just too tight, however I did make it the local Barnes and Nobel.

I was able to find a book titled "The Great Starvation Experiment" written by Todd Tucker (not to be confused with Tom Tucker, TV anchor man from 'the Family Guy')

This book was published by the University of Minnesota Press - The same publishing company the published the original Ancel Keys Research.

This book is definitely worth a read - Not necessarily for its scientific accuracy (which is impressive at times) but for it's amazing descriptions of the political and social issues of the times.

I managed to get through this book on my flight home, so it's not a difficult read by any means, but and it is worth recommending on its entertaining value alone.


PS- I'm getting lots of great feedback on the new Eat Stop Eat Advanced Audio files! If you are interested in getting an advanced understanding of the science behind the Eat Stop Eat lifestyle, be sure to check out the Eat Stop Eat Advanced package ==>

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Marcie Barnes said...

Have you read this most excellent blog post about the same experiment?

:) Marcie

Bob Walton said...

I know I need to lose weight, but this approach is a little too drastic for my taste. Though sometimes "radical" is the only or best approach.

Brad Pilon said...

Hi Marcie,

I have read the post you mention, but I find some disturbing errors in the logic.

Specifically, the author leaves out the fact that some of the men in Ancel Keys study were eating as low at 1,000 calories per day, and that all of men in this trial were also required to walk between 45 and 50 miles per week...for every single week of the study.

This increased their caloric deficit by over 700 Calories per day!

The purpose of the Ancel Keys study was largely to examine recovery from starvation, so a 25% reduction in weight was a necessity in the starvation phase. If the subjects weren't losing weight, they simply had their daily calorie intake cut lower and lower.

So the two studies really aren't comparable.

Despite this error the blog post you posted was well written and informative, but I would not call it excellent.


Brad Pilon said...

Hi Bob,

I would not advocate the methods of this trial for weight. There are much easier and less exhausting methods you could use.