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OU Professor Receives National Fellowship to Complete Biography on Ancel Keys and the American Diet



CONTACT: Jana Smith, Director of Strategic Communications for R&D, (405) 325-1322,

NORMAN — A University of Oklahoma associate professor has received a National Endowment for the Humanities Research Fellowship to complete a biography on nutrition and heart disease researcher Ancel Keys (1904-2004). The biography is tentatively titled Health Revolutionary: Ancel Keys, Science, War, and the American Diet. Few people have exerted more influence on American eating habits than physiologist and epidemiologist Ancel Keys. 

Since joining OU in 1999, Sarah W. Tracy, associate professor of Honors and the History of Medicine and director of the Medical Humanities Program in the Honors College, has received two NEH Fellowships in support of her research. Tracy won an NEH Fellowship in 2002-2003 to support the writing of her book, Alcoholism in America from Reconstruction to Prohibition, published by Johns Hopkins University Press in 2005.

“My biography of Ancel Keys is an extension of my longstanding research interest in the evolution of American eating and drinking habits and the ways they affect our health status and the definition and management of chronic disease. The methods I am using in my analysis of Keys’ life and work are those of the social and cultural history of medicine, food studies and biography,” says Tracy.

In the 1940s, Keys helped usher in the era of highly-processed, preservative-rich food through his development of the K Ration for the U.S. Army. In the 1950s, 60s and 70s, Keys wrote internationally bestselling cookbooks that introduced the United States and the world to the Mediterranean diet and heart healthy eating habits.

Nicknamed “Mr. Cholesterol” by the popular press, Keys appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1961 as the man most likely to find an explanation for America’s No. 1 source of mortality (then and now), heart disease. He was one of the original and loudest advocates of diets low in saturated fat. Yet, the public knows little about this important American scientist, health advocate and author.

NEH Fellowships support individuals pursuing advanced research that is of value to humanities scholars, general audiences, or both. NEH awarded $14.6 million in grants for 202 humanities projects in December 2013. 

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