Nutrition Department Crusader Dead at 91

Frederick J. Stare, a crusading nutritionist who debunked fad diets and founded Harvard’s department of nutrition, died last Thursday at his home in Wellesley, Mass. He was 91.

The cause of death was complications from the treatment of prostate cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Stare built his career attacking quack diets and health food advocates on television and radio and in his nationally syndicated newspaper column, “Food and Your Health.” He argued that potentially harmful foods, such as those containing caffeine, could be beneficial when consumed in moderation.

“He was driven, absolutely dedicated to fighting misinformation,” said Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, who frequently collaborated with Stare and contributed to his best-selling book Panic in the Pantry: Facts and Fallacies About the Food You Buy.

Stare also fought to improve nutrition for children in developing nations and supported the process of fluoridating public drinking water to prevent tooth decay. He defended food preservatives and chemical additives as beneficial and necessary at a time when naturalists countered that additives were detrimental.

Raised on a small farm in Columbus, Wis., Stare earned a doctorate in chemistry at the University of Wisconsin. He then studied in Europe for two years and attended medical school at the University of Chicago.

In 1941, Stare was invited to Harvard to establish a nutrition department at the School of Public Health—the first such program in the country not to be associated with an agriculture school. His department quickly became a premier institution for nutrition research, spawning several classes of experts who went on to found nutrition departments elsewhere.

At the height of McCarthyism, Stare won notoriety for hiring Bernard Lown, a cardiologist who had been accused of holding communist sympathies. Lown went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985 as one of the leaders of a group opposing the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

After he stepped down as an active administrator at age 65 in 1976, Stare remained a familiar face in the department and was active outside of Harvard.

“He kept coming in to support the work and research being done here for more than twenty years after his retirement,” said Wilson C. Willet, who replaced Stare as the nutrition department head and holds a chair in epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard Medical School that was named after Stare. “He was just amazingly committed.”

Stare is survived by his wife, Irene, three children from a previous marriage, David Stare, Frederick Stare, and Mary Wilkinson, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.