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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Showing 3 of 29 comments
DiogenesXI
Feb 2, 2014 11:45 AM CST
You're a dipstick, "bob."
WhateverYouSay
Feb 2, 2014 9:37 AM CST
It's interesting to read this, since some modern research suggests that a calorie restricted diet results in longevity. The big difference in today's studies of course is that the calories are well balanced, not just root vegetables which lack necessary proteins and nutrients. Also, anyone who's been on a diet, voluntarily, knows that one begins to obsess about food and crankiness just goes with the territory.
Swiss_Talk
Feb 2, 2014 9:34 AM CST
I read about an Israeli professor, a well established and wealthy man, he went thru a death camp during the WWII, so he still can't leave his home without a piece of bread. The starvation embossed into his mind forever! It's, like, you know, ppl who are claustophobic because the were locked inside during their chilhood.