How WWII Researchers Starved Men in Minnesota

Scientists wanted to see effects of limited food
By Matt Cantor,  Newser User
Posted Feb 1, 2014 8:42 AM CST
A 1944 experiment almost starved its subjects.   (Shutterstock)

(Newser) – With those in occupied territories during World War II facing the threat of starvation, American researchers sought to learn more about the effects of limited food—by starving their own subjects. "Will you starve that they be better fed?" asked a volunteer-seeking brochure showing children on its cover. Hundreds of conscientious objectors volunteered, and 36 healthy men were selected. "I wanted to identify with the suffering in the world at that time," volunteer Marshall Sutton tells the BBC. "I wanted to do something for society." The Minnesota Starvation Experiment, which began in 1944 at the University of Minnesota, set volunteers on a diet of 1,560 calories per day for six months. Root vegetables were a mainstay, mimicking what people were eating in Europe.

The results were, as you might expect, disastrous. Men began by struggling to concentrate; then, fights broke out. Some men experienced serious depression, with several sent to the hospital—including one who'd cut off three of his fingers with a hatchet, reports io9. Eventually, subjects reported being too weak to open heavy doors, as they grew emaciated, their hair fell out, and their heart rates dropped. After a three-month recovery period, hardly anyone felt they'd recuperated, and some subjects continued obsessive eating for a year, io9 notes. But Sutton says that he, like others, is glad he did it; it was a sacrifice as his friends were fighting, he tells the BBC. The study is still cited today in regard to eating disorders such as anorexia. (In another WWII-related story, click to read about an estimated 2 million Nazi victims who died not in concentration camps but in random executions, a "Holocaust by bullets.")

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