Alan Berg (nutritionist)

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Alan Berg
Berg Alan D.png
Born (1932-02-18) February 18, 1932 (age 86)
Dayton, Ohio, United States
Nationality American
Known for International Nutrition

Alan D. Berg (born February 18, 1932) is an American international development authority, most notable for his advocacy and large-scale implementation of strategies to address malnutrition, especially among children and pregnant women.[1] Berg's professional focus on nutrition spans more than half a century and has earned him wide recognition for stimulating a new policy approach to international nutrition assistance.[2] His work has helped to transform the way development agencies and national governments think about the problem of malnutrition as a fundamental component of economic growth. His innovative planning and multisectoral operational work, particularly during his long tenure as the senior nutrition officer at the World Bank (1972–95), have modeled a number of practices that other donor institutions and countries now often incorporate into their own projects. Furthermore, Berg’s efforts to transform development assistance for nutrition have prompted a number of academic training programs for nutritionists to expand their curriculum to include coursework in nutrition policy, planning, and implementation, creating a new career path for graduates.[3] In a 1997 survey of the international nutrition community,[4] Berg was the one most often cited as a role model for young persons entering the field.[5] In 2008, the United Nations Standing Committee on Nutrition honored Berg as one of the first recipients of the United Nations Achievement Award for Lifelong Service to Nutrition, citing him at the presentation as "a global giant in nutrition history.[6]

The White House Years, 1962-65[edit]

Berg began his public service in nutrition as a staff member and then Deputy Director of the White House Food for Peace program under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. As Deputy Director (with the rank of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State), he also co-chaired the first White House Task Force on Nutrition, which explored the possibility of a role for the government in international nutrition assistance beyond disaster relief and institutional feeding programs.

India, 1966-70[edit]

Berg was then recruited by Ambassador Chester Bowles to come to India to work with the Indian government as head of the U.S. government’s first national-scale, multifaceted nutrition project. In India, Berg found an opportunity to test the broad recommendations he had developed with the White House Task Force on Nutrition. His work in India included direction of the extensive food aid program, creation of that country's food and pharmaceutical industry association to address malnutrition, introduction of social marketing techniques designed to change consumer behavior in nutritionally beneficial ways, and a number of innovative efforts to fortify food staples there with vitamins and minerals.[7] Berg also initiated in 1969 the concept of Double Fortified Salt, adding iron as well as iodine to common salt, with the aim of reducing iron deficiency anemia without requiring changes in dietary practices.[8]

When famine struck India in 1966-67, he coordinated a massive food aid distribution effort that is recognized as saving millions of lives.[9] That timely intervention earned Berg the U.S. government’s annual award as the Outstanding Young Civil Servant in 1968. Lester Brown, often a critic of U.S. policies, later praised that relief effort: “For the United States, this was one of our finest moments.” [10]

During his appointment in India, Berg published in Foreign Affairs, “Malnutrition and National Development,” the first in a series of influential articles and books arguing the case for inclusion of nutrition on the international development agenda.[11] The writings cited evidence from numerous countries on the deleterious effect of malnutrition, not only on child development and mortality, but also on the economic growth potential of individuals and nations.

Brookings and MIT, 1970-75[edit]

Upon returning to the United States and taking a position as a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, Berg wrote his groundbreaking book, The Nutrition Factor: Its Role in National Development, based on his experience in India.[12] The book, which was nominated for a National Book Award, cited the effect of poor nutritional status on mortality and on the cognitive development of survivors, underlining the far-reaching consequences of malnutrition.

Berg also served as Visiting Professor of Nutrition Policy and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1972 to 1976, where he organized and led a high-level conference that drew government ministers and international development authorities. He then served as lead author of the MIT Press book, Nutrition, National Development, and Planning. During these years, Berg also chaired the Nutrition Panel of the National Academy of Sciences' World Food and Nutrition Study (1975).[13] His work captured the attention of policymakers and is widely credited with establishing nutrition as an essential dimension of international development strategies.

The World Bank, 1972-95, and following[edit]

In 1972 World Bank President Robert McNamara recruited Berg to be Deputy Director of the new Population and Nutrition Projects Department at the Bank. The position gave Berg scope to implement and build upon many of the recommendations contained in his writings.

During the 23 years of Berg’s tenure, the size of nutrition operations generated by the Bank (free-standing nutrition projects and nutrition components of health, education, agriculture, rural development, and social protection projects), earlier negligible, totaled $2.1 billion, significantly more than the spending of all other donors combined.[14] The rationale, approach, and accounts of the projects themselves are the subject of two of Berg's books, Malnourished People: A Policy View (World Bank) and Malnutrition: What Can Be Done (Johns Hopkins University Press) published during this period. He also continued his advocacy work in nutrition, including the launch of his internationally circulated newsletter, New and Noteworthy in Nutrition.

Berg’s call for due attention to nutrition, as a key component of both economic development and human wellbeing, has been widely acknowledged within the World Bank and internationally. One prominent Bank official publicly referred to him as “the conscience of the Bank on hunger issues.”[15] International recognition of Berg's work to advance nutritional issues in international development assistance culminated in 2008, when he was awarded the United Nations Achievement Award for Lifelong Service to Nutrition.

Following Berg’s retirement from the World Bank in 1995, he has served as an adviser or consultant to a number of international nongovernmental organizations, as well as the World Bank through 2014. He also, through 2010, returned to the Brookings Institution as a Guest Scholar. Berg continues to serve as a board member of the innovative public health organization Calcutta Kids, providing health and nutrition services to mothers and young children in Indian slums.


Malnutrition: What Can Be Done (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987); International Agricultural Research and Human Nutrition, coeditor with Per Pinstrup-Andersen and Martin Forman (International Food Policy Research Institute and United Nations Standing Committee on Nutrition, 1984); Malnourished People: A Policy View (World Bank, 1981); The Nutrition Factor: Its Role in National Development (Brookings, 1973); Nutrition, National Development, and Planning, coauthor with Nevin S. Scrimshaw and David L. Call (MIT Press, 1971); MAP [Military Assistance Program] for Security, coauthor with John Holcombe (University of South Carolina Press, 1957). In addition, Berg has published articles and opinion pieces in Foreign Affairs; New York Times Magazine; New York Times; Harvard Business Review; MIT Technology Review; New Republic; Natural History; Finance and Development; Food Policy; Washington Post “Outlook”; American Journal of Clinical Nutrition; Journal of Tropical Pediatrics; International Development Review; Development Digest; Nutrition Reviews; Tropical Science; Journal of the American Dietetic Association; Ecology of Food and Nutrition; Economic Impact; Economic and Political Weekly (of India); Food Industries Journal; Journal of Food Technology; Journal of Society of Nutrition Education; and Saturday Review of Literature.


In addition to the United Nations Achievement Award for Lifelong Service to Nutrition (2008), Berg received the Society of Nutrition Education’s “Voices Who Have Changed Nutrition” Award (1992) and the William A. Jump Award as the Outstanding Young (under 37) Public Servant in U.S. Government (1968). He was named a Belding Scholar by the Foundation for Child Development (1970). He was also on the team that won the Grammy Award for Outstanding Children’s Record of 2004 for the collection Bon Appetit! Musical Food Fun, which took good nutrition as its theme.


He is a cousin of trilingual media specialist Theo Schear.


  1. ^ Levinson, James (2013). "Vital to the Creation: Interview with Alan Berg". Development. 56 (24).
  2. ^ Society of Nutrition Education (1992). Remarks: Voices Who Have Changed Nutrition Award. 1992 Annual Meeting, Philadelphia.
  3. ^ "Sliding toward nutrition malpractice: time to reconsider and redeploy (originally presented as the Fourth Annual Martin J. Forman Memorial Lecture, June 24, 1991)". American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 57: 3–7. 1992.
  4. ^ Society of Nutrition Education (September 1997). How Are We Doing in International Nutrition? Describing a survey conducted for and reported in the Tenth Annual Martin J. Foreman Memorial Lecture. Cairo.
  5. ^ In her autobiography, Liberian President and Nobel Prize Winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf credits Berg for her success in shepherding her first project through the World Bank's top management and Executive Directors.Sirleaf, Ellen Johnson (2009). This Child Will Be Great: Memoir of a Remarkable Life by Africa's First Woman President. Harper/Harper Collins. pp. 78–79.
  6. ^ United Nations Standing Committee on Nutrition (March 2008). Report of the Thirty-Fifth Session. Hanoi.
  7. ^ Nutrition as a National Priority: Lessons from the India Experiment. Washington, D.C.: Brookings. 1971. Also published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 23: 1396-1408.
  8. ^ Berg, Alan and F. James Levinson (1969). "With a Grain of Fortified Salt". Food Technology. 32 (9): 70–72.
  9. ^ McGowan, Joe Jr. (August 28, 1967). "Massive Operation Curbs Starvation". Spokane Daily Chronicle. See also "Famine Contained: Notes and Lessons from the Bihar Experience", pp. 113-129 in Famine: Nutrition and Relief Operations in Times of Disaster (1971). Almqvist & Wiksell, Stockholm, and Swedish International Development Authority.
  10. ^ Brown, Lester R. (2014). Breaking New Ground: A Personal History. New York: W. W. Norton.
  11. ^ Berg, Alan (October 1967). "Malnutrition and National Development". Foreign Affairs. 46: 126–136. doi:10.2307/20039286. In addition to The Nutrition Factor and Nutrition, National Development, and Planning, which are cited in the Publications section, see also these subsequent writings, among others, by Berg: “Increased Income and Improved Nutrition: A Shibboleth Examined,” International Development Review, 1970/3, pp. 2-7; “A Strategy to Reduce Malnutrition,” Finance & Development, March 1980, pp. 22-26; “The Trouble with Triage,” New York Times Magazine, June 15, 1975, pp. 26-35; “To Save the World from Lifeboats,” Natural History, June–July 1975, pp. 4-6; “Feed the Hungry” (op ed), New York Times, September 3, 1988; “Malnutrition and National Development,” Journal of Tropical Pediatrics (September 1968),14 (3); “Nutrition and development: the view of the planner," coauthor with Robert Muscat, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (February 1, 1972) 25 (2): 186–209; "Nutrition, Nutritional Development, and Planning," coauthor with Nevin S. Scrimshaw and David L. Call, Economic Development and Cultural Change (July 1976) 24 (4): 860–866; and "Industry's struggle with world malnutrition," Harvard Business Review (January 1972).
  12. ^ See, for example, these book reviews: Chafkin, Sol, Washington Post Book World, April 13, 1975; Mayer, Jean, syndicated column, August 16, 1973; Brown, Lester (August 1975), War on Hunger; McGovern, George, Congressional Record, April 22, 1974; Foreign Affairs (October 1973).
  13. ^ World Food and Nutrition Study. National Academy of Sciences. 1977. p. vol. IV.
  14. ^ Herforth, Anna; Tanimichi Hoberg, Yuri (2014). Learning from history: Agriculture and food-based approaches to address malnutrition at the World Bank over time. Washington, DC: World Bank.
  15. ^ Closing statement by Ismail Serageldin at the Conference on Actions to Reduce Hunger Worldwide, November 30-December 1, 1993, published in Serageldin, Ismail, and Pierre Landell-Mills, eds. (1994). Overcoming Global Hunger: Proceedings of a Conference on Actions to Reduce Hunger Worldwide. World Bank.