George Graham

[ Age 83 ] Professor of international health was an expert on malnutrition among children in the developing world

January 17, 2007|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,sun reporter

Dr. George Gordon Graham, an internationally acclaimed authority on malnutrition in infants and children and founding director of the division of human nutrition in the department of international health at what is now the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, died of respiratory failure Sunday at his Gibson Island home. He was 83.

Born the son of a banker in Hackensack, N.J., Dr. Graham was 4 when he moved to San Juan, Puerto Rico. When he was 14, he left San Juan, and entered the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry in 1941.

After earning his medical degree from Penn in 1945, he completed an internship in 1947, and a residency in pediatrics at the British-American Hospital in Lima, Peru, in 1948.

Dr. Graham held positions at the British-American Hospital, including acting medical director from 1961 to 1965, and at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.

He came to Baltimore in 1961 as a visiting pediatrician and was later chief pediatrician at the old Baltimore City Hospitals.

In 1968, Dr. Graham was appointed professor of international health at what was then the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, and in 1976 was the founding director of the school's division of human nutrition and the interdepartmental nutrition program.

In addition to his work at Hopkins, Dr. Graham was director of research for and had served until 1990 as president of the Institute for Nutritional Research in Lima, which he had established in 1961.

"He and his team at the institute discovered copper deficiency, showing this mineral to be an essential component," said his grandson Dr. Christopher Moxon, a pediatrician who lives in Leicester, England. "He also made major contributions to understanding the importance of protein quality for infant growth and showed that stunted malnourished children could catch up lost growth if given an appropriate diet."

"He was a champion and specialist in the prevention of early-childhood malnutrition in Peru and the South American continent," said Dr. Keith P. West, a nutritionist in the international health department at Hopkins, and a former student of Dr. Graham's.

"In the early 1960s, he drew people's attention to a very important cause: malnutrition in developing countries. He was obsessive when it came to things he cared about," Dr. Moxon said.

During the 1980s, Dr. Graham served as a member of President Ronald Reagan's Task Force on Food Assistance.

As to the causes of malnutrition in the United States, Dr. Graham told The Sun in a 1983 article, "Its causes in this country are very complex but they're not that mysterious -- social disruption of families, drugs, alcohol, jail, very young teenage mothers -- when you talk about children."

He added: "When you talk about the elderly, there is illness, isolation, fear to go out and buy and the boredom of preparing their own food."

Dr. West credited Dr. Graham with realizing years ago the problem of obesity and its relationship to convenience foods. "We are shocked when we find that items which we like or were forced to like because of their nutrient content are turned down by young people with a `yukk,'" Dr. Graham told a U.S. Senate subcommittee in 1971.

Labeling the trend toward convenience foods a "relentless one," he added that a "yearning to go back to the good old days of natural foods, bought fresh, prepared carefully and served with careful attention to the basic food groups ... is an impossible dream," reported The Sun at the time.

Dr. Graham tried to arouse interest in the consequences of eating meat with their fats that have a "cumulative, long-range deleterious effect on the heart and blood vessels," reported The Evening Sun in 1973.

Dr. Graham's research also helped companies develop more nutritious formulas for infants.

Dr. Graham, who retired in 2001, was remembered by former students and colleagues for his cordiality and graciousness.

"He was also a wonderful teacher and mentor. Nobody in my training had ever focused on nutrition or made it come alive," said Dr. William C. MacLean, a retired pediatrician and former student of Dr. Graham's who teaches part time at Ohio State University College of Medicine.

When the George G. Graham Professorship in Infant and Child Nutrition was created at Hopkins in 2005, Dr. MacLean wrote, "George could be a tough taskmaster, but he was always fair."

His wife of 54 years, the former Simone Custer, died in 2001.

A memorial service will be held at Our Lady of the Chesapeake Roman Catholic Church, 8325 Ventnor Road, Pasadena, at 11 a.m. tomorrow.

Also surviving are a son, Alexander F. Graham of Gibson Island; five daughters, Helen G. Hammann of Columbia, Anita Graham and Carol Graham, both of Gibson Island, Marianne G. Moxon of Oxford, England, and Monica G. Gurney of London; two brothers, Harry F. Graham of Ecuador and Bruce J. Graham of St. Petersburg, Fla.; two sisters, Janet G. Scott of Paris and Margaret G. Lewis of Gibson Island; 16 other grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

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