When Katherine Musgrave took her first nutrition class in 1937, she learned about six nutrients, and, as she likes to say, “We didn’t know much about them.” The discovery of the healing power of vitamins for those with vitamin deficiencies was huge, and she and her colleagues saw them as a cure-all.
Fast-forward to 2010. At 90, Musgrave is a registered dietitian and professor emerita of foods and nutrition at the University of Maine, and she still teaches an online course that attracts up to 300 students a semester. In her spare time, she counsels patients with dietary needs and works with a local allergist.
Musgrave is a pioneer who has seen the entire field advance over the course of her lifetime. But while the science behind human nutrition has evolved dramatically from those six vital nutrients, the fundamentals remain the same. So, too, does the field’s core concern.
“Back then, the emphasis was on combating malnutrition, as it is now,” says Musgrave, who joined the UMaine faculty in 1969 and in 2002 received the regional University Continuing Education Association Faculty Member of the Year Award.
“But malnutrition then was the complete opposite of what it is today. It was a gaunt, thin, hungry person.”
Though malnutrition takes many forms today, it’s more likely that someone who is malnourished is a heavy, plump, full person. With obesity, the problem isn’t not enough food, it’s not enough of the right foods. And it’s not quite as simple to combat as its predecessor — which a high-calorie, high-vitamin diet could cure.