The Boston Globe Magazine profiled Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) nutrition expert Walter Willett in the cover story of its July 28 issue. Willett, Fredrick John Stare Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition and chair of the Nutrition Department at HSPH, is the single-most-cited nutritionist in the world. He oversees two long-term studies that have gathered data on the health habits of nearly 300,000 people, generating numerous insights on healthy living. For example, Willett and his colleagues have found that red meat is associated with increased risk of diabetes while coffee is linked to reduced risk.
Following Willett from a food industry conference where he is besieged by reps touting their company’s latest healthy eating innovation, to his home kitchen where he serves his wife’s lentil-and-nut loaf (designed based on his dietary findings), the Globe writer describes the “outsize role [Willett] plays in matters of the American diet.” Americans now consume about 75% fewer trans fats than a decade ago thanks in part to Willett’s efforts. He also helped create the Healthy Eating Pyramid and Healthy Eating Plate to counter U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines, which he feels are overly influenced by agribusiness lobbying.
Willett eats as he preaches, the article noted, and encourages his family to do the same. He eventually even convinced his young sons to give up sweets. According to the article, Willett achieved this in his typically gentle yet persistent fashion, suggesting to his sons, “What do you think if we tried this?”