Doris Calloway, pioneering nutritional scientist and UC Berkeley professor

September 06, 2001
By Patricia McBroom, Media Relations

Doris Howes Calloway, a pioneering nutritional scientist who first studied the dietary needs of healthy people under controlled conditions and a professor emerita at the University of California, Berkeley, died Friday, Aug. 31, of Parkinson's disease at a nursing home in Seattle.

She was 78.

Known internationally and on campus as a ground-breaking scientist and a sensitive human being, Calloway rose to the top of her career in several arenas during her 27 years at UC Berkeley.

She started the "Penthouse" studies, which recorded in detail the food and energy needs of six volunteers who lived for several weeks on campus in an isolated environment. These studies, begun in the 1960s, later became a model for careful dietary research.

Calloway also was the first woman to break into the ranks of senior administrators at UC Berkeley, becoming a provost for UC Berkeley's professional schools and colleges in 1981.

In the late 1980s, during and after her time as UC Berkeley provost, Calloway led a nine-university, $14 million research project in Kenya, Egypt and Mexico aimed at understanding the causes and consequences of moderate malnutrition. That study not only uncovered the physical and cognitive consequences of undernutrition, but pinpointed the poor education and low empowerment of women as a cause.

At the same time, Calloway raised two children and took the time to mentor younger faculty members and graduate students as well.

"She was one of the greats," said Leonard Bjeldanes, professor and chair of the UC Berkeley Department of Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology. "She was a superbly trained, highly respected scientist who had great courage about what she took on. Yet, she was also insightful, a warm person you could have fun with. I was in awe of her abilities."

Appointed to head UC Berkeley's 13 professional schools and colleges from 1981-87, Calloway set about turning the creativity of scientific innovators toward solving human problems created by technology. As in so many other areas, she led the way for women in senior positions on campus.

"She broke the ice, and it wasn't easy," recalled Ira Michael Heyman, a UC Berkeley professor emeritus of law and city planning who was chancellor on campus at the time. "I had enormous faith in Doris's professionalism and sensitivity. She was one of my most cherished appointments as chancellor."

Calloway's scientific work has strongly affected all subsequent research in diet and nutrition. She found early on that Americans did not need as much protein in their diets as they believed, said former colleague and Calloway graduate student Janet King, who now heads a U.S. Department of Agriculture research center located at UC Davis.

"In the 1950s, nutritionists believed a person needed 100 grams of protein a day. Doris showed that you only need about half that amount, and the more protein you eat, the more you excrete, because your body can't use it," said King, also a UC Berkeley professor emerita of nutritional science.

Besides rewriting the book on protein requirements in general, Calloway's research and that of her students teased out the special needs of menstruating and pregnant women and the elderly, among others, in a unique laboratory setting located on the fourth floor of UC Berkeley's Morgan Hall.

There, in a three bedroom apartment, generations of volunteers lived six at a time for up to three months on a strictly measured diet. They were allowed outside only for exercise under supervision, so that every particle associated with protein metabolism that went into and came out of their bodies could be traced through not only urine and fecal excretion, but sweat, hair and skin loss.

"It was meticulous and unparalleled," said King. "Doris would shave people's heads and put them in special suits to measure their skin losses. No one before had ever done such technically challenging studies in nutrition."

The Penthouse studies were directed at UC Berkeley by Calloway and professor emeritus of public health Sheldon Margen for 17 years, from 1964-81, influencing national standards for dietary allowances, called the RDAs (recommended daily allowances).

In her later international studies, Calloway, as usual, took on a difficult and ambitious goal - that of measuring the social and economic context of mild to moderate malnutrition among individuals in marginally adequate environments.

These studies quantified in the lives of children the nutritional consequences of women's lack of economic, social and educational power.

"One of Doris's missions in life was to improve opportunities for women and members of minority races," said King. "The scientific issues she undertook were often linked with - but not limited by - their needs." Calloway also studied the nutritional needs of astronauts and American soldiers, King said.

Born in Canton, Ohio, in 1923, Calloway earned a B.S. degree at Ohio State University in Columbus and a Ph.D. at the University of Chicago (1947). Her first research work was for the U.S. Army, at the Armed Forces Food and Container Institute in Chicago, where in 1959 she won the first of her many awards, a plaque naming her "Man of the Year" for research. Calloway loved to point out the plaque and humorously kept it prominently displayed in her office.

From there, after a brief stint at the Stanford Research Institute, Calloway was appointed professor of nutrition at UC Berkeley in 1963. She retired in 1990, but continued her work until she was incapacitated by Parkinson's disease.

In 1995, she chaired a U.S. government committee that determines dietary guidelines for Americans every five years.

Among her many honors, Calloway was awarded the Berkeley Citation and the Bristol-Myers Squibb/Mead Johnson Award for Distinguished Achievement in Nutrition Research. Two years ago, the Regents of the University of California created an endowed chair in human nutrition at UC Berkeley in her name.

Calloway is survived by her husband of 20 years, Robert Nesheim of Seattle; a son, David Calloway of Woodland Hills, Calif.; a daughter, Candace Calloway Whiting of Seattle; two stepchildren, Sandra Rankin of Danbury, Conn.; and Barbara Mowry of Denver; and nine grandchildren.

Memorial services will be held at 2 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 7, on the Morgan Hall Patio. Contributions can be sent to the Doris Howes Calloway Memorial Fund, 101 Giannini Hall, College of Natural Resources, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720.