Founding of the Department: 

The roots of Harvard’s program in Nutrition run from the 1940s. Harvard's Department of Nutrition was founded in 1942 with a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. Initially, the department was located in the Department of Biochemistry at Harvard Medical School, but it was administered in the School of Public Health.

In 1946, the department moved into larger space, acquired by the School of Public Health and in 1962 it moved into a new building. By then it had grown from one of the smallest to one of the largest departments in either school. The department was responsible for teaching nutrition in both the School of Public Health and the Medical School. It was the first department of nutrition established in any medical school or school of public health in the world.

A Nutrition Obesity Research Center supported by the NIH was established in 1992 by Dr W. Allan Walker. Over 100 faculty in the HMS-affiliated hospitals were identified as having major clinical or research interests in nutrition, but usually these investigators have a primary affiliation in other departments (e.g., Medicine, Surgery, Pediatrics, Preventive and Primary Care Medicine) or hospitals. One of the main purposes of establishing a Division of Nutrition at Harvard Medical School is to have these clinical and research faculty in closer touch for projects of mutual interest and to provide a more efficient use of resources within this discipline.

Formation of the HMS Division of Nutrition:

The Division of Nutrition was established at Harvard Medical School in 1996 by the Faculty Council. This Division was charged with coordinating all nutritional activities involving education, research and clinical care between the medical school and its major teaching hospitals – Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston Children’s Hospital, and the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

It was the Faculty Council’s view that Nutrition as a discipline should have more visibility at Harvard as an independent Division within the medical school. Furthermore, this Division was charged to interact closely with the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health.

In 2020, the Division was re-certified by the IPCI with new leadership (see below) and the following goals:

  • To develop and advocate for clinical and research training in nutrition at Harvard Medical
  • School.
  • To review the HMS curriculum and identify opportunities for nutrition education.
  • To offer pre- and post-doctoral research training for HMS medical and graduate students via a T32-funded training program.
  • To provide evidence-based nutrition information to HMS faculty and students, affiliated hospital staff, and the public via websites, webcasts and education programs.
  • To engage with local and global low-resource communities especially afflicted with nutrition and lifestyle-related diseases on the topics of nutrition education, diet and physical activity, and to facilitate HMS student participation in these efforts.
  • To maintain a close working relationship with the P30 Nutrition Obesity Research Center at Harvard, and the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.

Examples of Division’s accomplishments include the following:

The Nutrition Obesity Research Center at Harvard (NORCH), an independent grant residing at MGH that works closely with the DON, was renewed as a P30 grant from the NIDDK (P30-DK040561) in 2018.  NORCH PI Dr. Steve Grinspoon is a member of the Executive Committee of the DON and DON Director Dr. Christopher Duggan is Associate Director of NORCH as well as a member of its Executive Committee and the Director of its Enrichment. Thus the two entities work closely together to fulfill their joint and related missions. NORCH supports an Annual Nutrition Symposium at Harvard Medical School, attended by faculty, students and medical personnel interested in the promotion of research in obesity, nutrition, and metabolism; provides research support via a Pilot & Feasibility Award program that funds several projects annually, with preference given to junior investigators in the field who are collecting preliminary data for larger grant applications, and supports a Diversity Scholar Program that brings together a diverse group of researchers in obesity, nutrition, and metabolism to foster networking and career advancement.

Dr. Duggan’s research group at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Chan is supported by NIH (including a mid-career mentorship K24 award), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, World Health Organization and other entities.  His group has contributed numerous important findings to the global health and nutrition literature, including the discovery of novel biomarkers for environmental enteric dysfunction (EED, a subclinical form of small bowel dysfunction), the role of EED in contributing to child undernutrition in low and middle-income countries, and the new therapeutics for childhood diarrhea.  His research group has included numerous doctoral and post-doctoral students, residents in pediatrics from Boston Children’s Hospital, and HMS students.

Dr. Elsie Taveras’s research group at Mass General Hospital for Children has been supported by NIH and numerous foundations. She has led multiple dissemination and implementation trials that have sought to implement evidence-informed childhood obesity prevention and management practices in federally qualified community health centers and youth-based community organizations. Dr. Taveras also serves as PI of community implementation science studies funded through the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Cancer Institute, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, and the Maternal Child Health Bureau. Dr. Taveras was also a member of the 2020 USDA Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.

The DON is also committed to providing a nutrition-training program through NIH-supported fellowship programs at the HSPH and the DON and within the Harvard affiliate hospitals. These programs provide training in nutrition research in nutritional biochemistry, nutritional epidemiology and clinical investigation in nutrition.