John Waterlow

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 05 January 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:c7260
  1. Joanna Lyall
  1. j.lyall{at}

Revolutionised care of severely malnourished children

At the end of the second world war, his mentor at the Medical Research Council, Ben Platt, told John Waterlow, “Nutrition will be the problem of the future.” This was the only stimulus Platt ever gave him, “but it was a crucial, altering the whole direction of my future,” Waterlow recalled later. Professor John Waterlow’s pioneering research into the pathophysiology and treatment of severe malnutrition has influenced emergency relief programmes worldwide and saved thousands of lives.

When Platt was made director of a new Medical Research Council’s human nutrition research unit, Waterlow joined him. In 1945 he was sent to the Caribbean to find out why so many young children were dying from malnutrition. He spent a year in Trinidad, Guyana, and Jamaica and was keen to establish why so many malnourished children had fatty livers.

Severe form of malnutrition

Kwashiorkor, a severe form of malnutrition, was eventually shown to be the catastrophic influence of diarrhoeal or other common infection in children who lacked the protective antioxidant vitamins and minerals in their diet, and not a simple consequence of protein deficiency, as had …

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