According to his NY Times Obit, Hegsted was a serious proponent of nutrition:
In the early 1960s, Dr. Hegsted experimented with dietary changes and their effects on levels of harmful cholesterol in the bloodstream. He and others investigated the role of saturated fats derived from meat, eggs and other sources, polyunsaturated fats, monounsaturated fats and dietary cholesterol. The researchers developed a mathematical model, known as the Hegsted equation, to predict the effect of fats consumed in food on an individual’s serum cholesterol.
Nutrition.org highlights his stint in government:
In a second career, Hegsted went to Washington, DC, in 1978 to serve in
the newly created post of Administrator of Human Nutrition
in the US Department of Agriculture. During his
tenure, the US Department of Agriculture issued the Dietary Goals for
This basic dietary guidance, which was intended to
educate the general public, ignited a firestorm of protests from friends
and foes alike, revealing the intense tension between
the scientific community, industry, and politicians. Interestingly,
despite the remarkable controversy the document
created and its eventual retraction, the Dietary Goals for Americans was
forerunner of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and although the wording changed over the years the basic concepts remain relatively intact to this day.
However, a report released today by ars Technica says that, at least in the early years at Harvard he was in the pocket of the sugar industry:
According the documents, the SRF enlisted Fredrick Stare, then chair of Harvard’s Nutrition Department, as a member of the trade group’s advisory board. Stare then put the SRF in touch with D. Mark Hegsted and Robert McGandy, members of Stare’s department. Hegsted would later go on to be the head of nutrition at the USDA. (All three researchers as well as Hickson are no longer alive.)
By 1965, the SRF funded “Project 226,” which would have Hegsted and McGandy—supervised by Stare—write a literature review that downplayed sugars’ role in heart disease and shifted blame solely to saturated fat. In return the researchers received a total of $6,500—the 2016 equivalent of $48,900.
During the write-up, which wasn’t published until 1967, the SRF’s Hickson was in frequent contact with the researchers, asking to review drafts and reminding them of the SRF’s interests. In one response to Hickson, Harvard’s Hegsted wrote, “We are well aware of your particular interest in carbohydrate and will cover this as well as we can.” After several delays in the writing, Hegsted reported to Hickson that they had to “rework a section in rebuttal” every time a new study came out supporting a link between sugar and elevated cholesterol levels.
In her editorial, Nestle concluded that “the documents leave little doubt that the intent of the industry-funded review was to reach a foregone conclusion.”
Hero, scoundrel or both, he certainly left his mark on America and American nutrition. In fact, the Hegsted equation is still in use today.
I serve as the chair person for SANS Rocky Mountain 2017 on June 12 in Denver. I think D. Mark Hegsted would appreciate the way the security researchers that make up the faculty tirelessly search for root cause. And several of our equations such as risk = threat x vulnerability are still in use today as well.