The Jean Mayer Prize

The naming of the award is in memory of French-American scientist Dr. Jean Mayer, the tenth president of Tufts University, honoring his career as one of the world’s leading nutritionist scientists and his dedication to the cause of engaged action to improve nutrition and well-being around the world.

The Jean Mayer Prize for Excellence in Nutrition Science and Policy is a premier biennial international award established by the Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy at Tufts University to recognize outstanding achievement and build momentum in changing nutrition behavior and policies.

The inaugural event will take place on October 18th, 2018. Read more about the awardees and their contributions to making the world a healthier place. Every two years, the Awardee(s) will be global leaders and visionaries in nutrition science and policy who generate trusted science upon which the world’s health depends and/or achieve real-world impact that improves health, wellbeing, or sustainability.

Biography of Jean Mayer

Jean Mayer was born in Paris in 1920 into a distinguished French scientific family.  He attended the École Normale Supérieure (ENS) and earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, summa cum laude, a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, magna cum laude, and a master’s degree in physics and chemistry.  During World War II, Mayer served in the ENS Artillery Training Unit and the Free French Forces.  He commanded an artillery battery in the North African campaign, landed with the First Free French Division south of Naples, and after the D-Day landings, commanded a Free French infantry regiment in the south of France.  For his courage and heroism, he received a total of 14 decorations, including the Croix de Guerre with two palms, the Resistance Medal, and the Legion of Honor.

His truly prescient vision was that nutrition must bring together not only biochemistry but also social, agricultural, behavioral, economic, and communication to generate trusted science, cultivate future leaders, and achieve real-world impact.

After the war, Mayer earned a Ph.D. in Physiological Chemistry at Yale in 1948 and a Doctor of Science in Physiology at the Sorbonne in 1950.  Then, he directed a laboratory at the Harvard School of Public Health for two decades that conducted path breaking research on the physiological bases of hunger and the metabolism of essential nutrients.  Mayer was appointed President of Tufts University in 1976.  He led the university for 16 years, dramatically raising its impact and profile.  Among his major accomplishments were the founding, nearly 40 years ago, of the Tufts Institute of Nutrition, which soon became the Tufts School of Nutrition; and the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University.  His truly prescient vision was that nutrition must bring together not only biochemistry but also social, agricultural, behavioral, economic, and communication to generate trusted science, cultivate future leaders, and achieve real-world impact. 

The 2018 Award Winners:

  • Senator Tom Harkin
  • Former Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack
  • CSPI (Represented by Margo Wootan & Peter Lurie)
  • Mission Readiness (Represented by Rear Admiral James A. Barnett, Jr., U.S. Navy, Retired and Brigadier General Allyson R. Solomon, U.S. Air Force, Retired)

Mayer’s reputation as a leading nutrition scientist and his belief that the academic enterprise should serve the public good led to his involvement in shaping public policy on nutrition and hunger at national and international levels.  As an advisor to multiple Presidents including Nixon, Ford, and Carter, Mayer was a staunch advocate for strong policies and programs to reduce hunger and poor nutrition, particularly for the disadvantaged and the elderly, and to improve diet quality.  He served as a consultant to the World Health Organization and UNICEF, as head of a United Nations Task Force on Child Nutrition, and as Chair of the National Council on Hunger and Malnutrition in the U.S. 

"Nutrition is not a discipline, it is an agenda"

Mayer also served as the President-appointed Chairman of the first and still only White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health (1969-70), which focused on ending hunger and malnutrition among low-income Americans.  Its recommendations were incorporated into the planning of U.S. domestic nutrition policy, and its outcomes included expansion of the food stamps program and the school lunch program, establishment of a national feeding program for women, infants, and children, and increased consumer protections.  As an advisor to three Presidents including Nixon, Ford, and Carter, Mayer was a staunch advocate for a strong federal government role in fighting hunger and malnutrition in the U.S., particularly among the poor and the elderly.

As Mayer summarized, “Nutrition is not a discipline, but an agenda.”  The Jean Mayer Prize honors true global leaders who have reached the heights of achievement in nutrition, consistent with the vision and legacy of the man who fathered a broad, highly engaged view of modern nutrition science and policy.

The award is supported by a gift from John Hancock.

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