Ancel Keys: The Legacy of a Giant in Physiology, Nutrition, & Public Health

Research Paper Title

Ancel Keys: The legacy of a giant in physiology, nutrition, and public health.


Ancel Keys, whose life spanned over 100 years (1904-2004), made a wealth of seminal scientific and public health contributions.

As a physiologist, nutritionist, and public health scientist, he has left his mark on the 20th century by exploring different areas of physiology and nutrition, as well as by contributing to the understanding of basic public health issues.

Among his major achievements one can mention in chronological order:

  • Studying adaptation to very high altitude;
  • Developing the K ration to enable the US military to survive with light but dense food;
  • Dissecting the physiology of starvation and nutritional rehabilitation to optimise recovery of functions;
  • Uncovering the link between serum cholesterol and heart disease;
  • Coordinating the first multi-country epidemiological longitudinal study in nutrition and health;
  • Coining the word “body mass index” (BMI), which he showed to be the best body weight index to predict body fat; and
  • Promoting the Mediterranean diet for a healthy life style.

This review examines the historical events and scientific intrigues that have surrounded Ancel Keys’s major classical studies that have ensured him a central place in the history of medical science.


Montani, J-P. (2021) Ancel Keys: The legacy of a giant in physiology, nutrition, and public health. Obesity Reviews. doi: 10.1111/obr.13196. Online ahead of print.


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