2007 McGovern Award

On February 27th, the Department of Physiology and Health Science was privileged to have Dr. Walter Willett as the guest speaker for the John P. McGovern lecture. His topic, The Search for Optimal Diets: A Progress Report, was anticipated by all to be an interesting and controversial issue so it was not surprising to find that Cardinal Hall was completely full on the night of his presentation.

Dr. Willett, a professor at Harvard University, along with his colleagues, has been working with dietary intake since 1977, when he first began developing methods to assess people's diets. The conclusions he and his colleagues derived from these studies eventually lead to the development of their own "Healthy Eating Pyramid." (see below) There are many differences between this pyramid and the newly established "MyPyramid" (see below) released by the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. Both pyramids emphasize daily exercise, whole grain foods, fruits, and vegetables. However, Dr. Willett's pyramid also greatly stresses the need for oils, nuts, and legumes as all of these contain unsaturated fats which can lower risk of Coronary Heart Disease (CHD). Furthermore, his pyramid does not support the need for fish, poultry, and dairy every day, and states that red meat, butter, potatoes, soda, sweets, white rice, white bread and white pasta should be used sparingly.

Dr. Willett concluded that CHD rates can be significantly decreased by nutritional means. He states that it is important to consume poly- and mono-unsaturated fats instead of saturated and trans-fats. For example, although salad dressings have long been thought of as fattening, and thereby as increasing risk of CHD, oil and vinegar-based dressings are full of unsaturated fat and have been correlated with a lower risk of CHD. Dr. Willett pointed out that eating the reduced fat dressing is in fact less beneficial as it takes out the unsaturated fats that help to reduce risk of CHD.

Dr. Willett's data and conclusions, though new to many, were well supported and generated many conversations and debates among students and faculty. His presentation was no less than inspiring and certainly acted as a motivator for those who attended.

 

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