New biography highlights life of trailblazing woman scientist

By Otago University Press | Posted: Wednesday November 14, 2018

Pioneering nutritionist Muriel Bell had a profound effect on the health of New Zealanders in the 20th century, yet her many achievements have surprisingly been overlooked.

A new biography The Unconventional Career of Dr Muriel Bell by Diana Brown tells the story of this extraordinary woman in a long-overdue biography.

Appointed New Zealand’s first state nutritionist in 1940, a position she held for almost a quarter-century, Muriel Bell was behind ground-breaking public health schemes such as milk in schools, iodised salt and water fluoridation.

Diana Brown says Bell was a trailblazer who was committed to the understanding that ‘we are what we eat’, seeing nutrition as a cornerstone of individual and public health.

"Her nutritional advice – common sense to us today but revolutionary at the time – was to eat more fruit, vegetables, wholegrains and milk products and to cut down on sugar, fat and meat."

Diana Brown says Bell was motivated by a deep social concern, especially for women and children.

As a lecturer in physiology from 1923 to 1927, she had been one of the first women academics at Otago Medical School. She was the second woman in New Zealand to be awarded the research degree of Doctor of Medicine (MD), in 1926.

In 1937 she became a foundation member of the Medical Research Council, serving for two decades while simultaneously she was the sole woman on the Board of Health.

Her subsequent pioneering research on vitamins and minerals helped to prevent deficiency diseases, and later, optimise health. Bell’s early research into fats and cholesterol tackled the complexity of nutrition-related aspects of coronary heart disease.

The author

Diana Brown graduated with an MA in History with Distinction from Otago University in 2006, and was awarded a grant by the New Zealand History Research Trust Fund to write this book. She has lived overseas since 2008, working at writing, teaching and curriculum development, editing and translation. She speaks several European languages.

The Unconventional Career of Dr Muriel Bell
By Diana Brown

Release Date: November 2018
ISBN 978-1-98-853130-4


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