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A Brief History

content_dr_alanWhat is the Cambridge Diet?

The Cambridge Diet stems from the early 1960s when Dr Alan Howard, then a research scientist developed an interest in overweight and obesity.

He began to investigate methods of weight reduction, using himself as one of the guinea pigs. Together with Dr Ian McLean-Baird of the West Middlesex Hospital, in 1968 he organised a National Symposium on Obesity, the first ever held in the UK. They went on to a collaborate and develop the perfect diet. Successful trials led to the introduction of the Cambridge Diet.

With Dr McLean-Baird, Alan Howard set up a research project at the West Middlesex Hospital in London. What they wanted was a formula food with:

• the excellent weight loss properties of starvation, but no undesirable side effects
• the right level of protein to protect lean tissue
• the right level of carbohydrate to promote a mild ketosis and eliminate a sense of hunger
• the right levels of vitamins, minerals, trace elements and essential fatty acids to maintain good health.

The first formula produced excellent weight loss results, and further work by food technologists enhanced flavours and led to the first commercial version of the Cambridge Diet. The effectiveness and safety of this revised formula was tested both in hospital and with outpatients.

This study demonstrated three important factors:

• remarkable weight loss
• patient acceptability and
• patient safety

and led to the Diet becoming more available in obesity clinics in London and Cambridge. Long term safety was assessed and confirmed by further independent research in the UK, the USA and across Europe. The Cambridge Diet was launched commercially in the USA in 1980 and has been available in the UK since 1984.

Dr Alan N Howard, a Cambridge Biochemist, began his early work on formula foods in the 1950s and 1960s, when working at the Dunn Nutrition Laboratory in Cambridge. Together with a group of colleagues, he set up the Association for the Study of Obesity (ASO). The ASO still meets several times a year in the UK and has grown to encompass the International Association for the Study of Obesity (IASO) and the European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO). Dr Howard was also a founder editor of the International Journal for the Study of Obesity (IJO). 1970 saw the beginning of an intensive seven-year research project to formulate the ‘perfect diet’ – one with the least number of calories consistent with nutritional assurance. Dr Howard and his colleague, Dr Iain McLean Baird, ran an intensive in-patient trial at the West Middlesex Hospital in London. This was followed by out-patient trials at the same hospital and then at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, where Dr Howard and one of the senior registrars saw patients each week.

Alongside his research interests, Dr Howard established The Howard Foundation (a registered charity). The aims of the Howard Foundation are to provide funding for bio-medical research in the fields of obesity, nutrition and other key areas of health, and also for the construction of buildings at Downing College, Cambridge.