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 launch of this award is supported through a gift from John Hancock. The naming of the award is in memory of scientist Dr. Jean Mayer, the tenth president of Tufts University, honoring his career as one of the world’s leading nutrition scientists and his dedication to the cause of engaged action to improve nutrition and well-being around the world.
Biography of Jean Mayer
Jean Mayer was born in Paris in 1920 into a distinguished French scientific family. He attended the École Normale Supérieure 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, where he fought in the Battle of Dunkirk to protect the British forces evacuating across the English Channel. Taken prisoner, Mayer shot a guard, escaped his German captors, and made his way to America where he re-enlisted in the Free French Forces. He commanded an artillery battery in the North African campaign, landed with the First Free French Division near Naples, and after the D-Day landings, commanded a Free French infantry regiment in southern 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 prescient vision was that nutrition must bring together not only biochemistry but also social, agricultural, behaviorial, economic, and policy sciences for a multi-disciplinary approach to cutting-edge research, education, and public 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. His research led to a much deeper understanding of the regulation of hunger and the causes of obesity.
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)
Jean Mayer was appointed President of Tufts University in 1976 and over 16 years dramatically raised its impact and profile nationally and internationally. Among his major accomplishments were the founding of the Tufts School of Nutrition and the Tufts USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging. His prescient vision was that nutrition must bring together not only biochemistry but also social, agricultural, behaviorial, economic, and policy sciences for a multi-disciplinary approach to cutting-edge research, education, and public impact. As he summarized, “Nutrition is not a discipline, but an agenda.”
"Nutrition is not a discipline, it is an agenda"
Mayer’s reputation as a leading nutrition scientist and his belief that the academic enterprise should serve the public good led to deep involvement in shaping public policy on nutrition and hunger at the national and international levels. 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. Mayer served as the President-appointed Chairman of the first and still only White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health (1969-70), which dramatically improved U.S. food and nutrition policy to reduce hunger among low-income Americans. Its recommendations and successes included expansion of Food Stamps, expansion of the National School Lunch Program, establishment of the Women, Infants, and Children feeding program, establishment of nutrition facts labeling, and increased public nutrition guidance and consumer protections. Mayer also 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.
The Jean Mayer Prize honors true global leaders who have reached the heights of achievement in nutrition scholarship and translation, consistent with the vision and legacy of the man who fathered a broad, highly engaged view of modern nutrition science and policy.
On October 3-4, 2019, the 50th Anniversary of the White House Conference on Nutrition event brought together communities across the nutrition science and policy sectors to create momentum towards a new agenda for the future of food and nutrition policy.