O ne of the early twentieth-century diet authorities who had a professional background in nutrition. Trained in dietetics and nutrition at the University of California at Berkeley, she received her M.S. degree in biochemistry from the University of Southern California in 1938. Her work piggybacked on that of Gayelord Hauser in that she was an early advocate of nutritional supplements as well as "natural" foods in specific combinations. In i935, Stationers' Hall of London, England published her Optimum Health, and in 1939 her second book, You Can Stay Well. In i942, the Macmillan Company published the most assertive of Davis's works of the period, Vitality through Planned Nutrition.
Davis's celebrity as a diet guide in the U.S.A. began with the release of the first in her series of "Let's" titles, Let's Cook it Right (1947). This series would eventually include four titles, all of which became international bestsellers. In Let's Have Healthy Children (1951) she argued for serious attention to prenatal diet. But, as with many of her serious suggestions, she overstated the case, claiming that "every woman, by her choice of foods during pregnancy, largely determines the type of baby she will produce" (Davis 1951: 5). If a woman had a poor diet, the results would be catastrophic: heart defects, clubbed feet, tumors, premature birth, to list a few (Davis i95i: 6). But a good diet assured an easy labor and a "happy mother" (Davis 1951: 9). Davis was also part of the cult of cow's milk as the ideal food, advocating that infants regularly drink milk from a bottle as its "absence creates illness" (Davis 1951: 183).
In Let's Have Healthy Children, she recommended the use of potassium chloride for colic, which caused the death of an infant. As a result of the lawsuit that followed, the book was withdrawn and reedited before being republished. In 1954, she published her Let's Eat Right to Keep Fit, and finally, in 1965, her final book, Let's Get Well. Davis argues there against the notion that "obesity is chiefly of psychosomatic origin," so popularly advocated by Hilde Bruch (Davis 1965: 65). Rather, she argues, "too few nutrients are supplied in our diets to burn fat readily" (Davis 1965: 65) and we can eliminate fat by making these available. She presents dietary "cures" for arthritis, diabetes, gout, high blood pressure, and disorders of the nervous system.
Davis' popularity remained so high that at the 1969 White House Conference on Food and Nutrition, she was identified as the most damaging source of false nutrition information in the nation. She has been called "one of this century's masters of the anecdote presented as factual evidence" (Mowbray 1992: 192). Yet her views on questions such as the drinking of unpasteurized milk, are still cited as authorities (Planck 2006). We should remember that she wrote in Let's Get Well: "I have yet to know of a single adult to develop cancer who has habitually drunk a quart of milk daily" (Davis 1965: 266). Indeed, "most cancer could probably be prevented if the nutritional knowledge now available were applied" (Davis i965: 274). Such claims came over time to be seen as excessive.
See also Bruch, Hauser
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