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John Garrow

BMJ 2016; 354 doi: (Published 04 August 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;354:i4290
  1. Chris Mahony
  1. London
  1. chris.mahony{at}

Nutritionist and physician who predicted that obesity would be a greater challenge than malnutrition

A man committed to evidence based medicine, John Garrow deployed the same approach to assessing the existence or otherwise of a supreme being.

The pioneering nutrition researcher and physician, who has died at the age of 87, was a founder member and long term chairman of HealthWatch, a small charity formed in 1988 to challenge fraudulent and misleading claims about unproved treatments.

Although the charity—in its early guise as the Campaign against Health Fraud—initially focused on alternative medicine, it soon began to challenge poor clinical research practices and health programmes that were unsupported by robust evidence.

Garrow’s son, Alan, a vicar and theologian, relates the story of how this quest for evidence led him to a faith that would surprise some of his HealthWatch colleagues: “He had found the church deeply unsatisfying as a child, because he challenged and never got answers. However, he was a regular churchgoer from around the age of 55, after hearing a series of talks by someone he could respect intellectually. He decided that Christianity was probably true.”

Early years

Born to two Scottish doctors, Garrow was influenced by his upbringing and Presbyterian roots, his son says. “He saw the point of life as being very much making a contribution, serving people, and then getting out of the way. He was very practical about that and about dying.”

Garrow started studying medicine as an 18 year old at St Andrews, soon after the second world war. He was in awe of his older contemporaries—young men …

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