Nutritionist Walter Willett on the lost innocence of milk
The day before he received an honorary doctorate during the Wageningen
University 85th anniversary celebrations, the renowned scientist Walter
Willett took time to talk to Wb.
The impeccably dressed nutritionist talked about the power of the food
industry, the dark sides of milk and vitamin A, the fat controversy and
what we should be eating to stay healthy.
You have about seven hundred publications under your name, and many of them
are frequently cited. Looking at the figures, your studies on the
protective effect of vitamin E on the vascocirculatory system are your most
successful. Would you agree with that?
“What pleases me the most is that we are able to do this kind of research
at all. When I graduated in the 1970s, scientists believed that it was
impossible to measure the effects of diet or lifestyle. The group at
Harvard that I joined in 1977 had a different opinion of the matter, and
had just set up a big study that followed tens of thousands of nurses over
a long period of time, the Nurses Study. This and other similar studies
proved that you can measure the effects of lifestyle scientifically, and
some the results were quite opposite to some of the conventional wisdom of
the time. In the 1970s scientists still seriously believed that smoking was
not harmful to women. Now we know from the big, long-term studies that
smoking is the biggest cause of cancer and cardiovascular diseases among