His dedication to improving nutrition was shaped by his exposure to rife malnutrition and poverty in Glasgow's slums and tenements.

Scots scientist Sir John Boyd Orr is credited with being the first in his field to establish a definite link between poverty, poor diet and ill-health and under-achievement at school.

His pioneering research led to millions of children across the UK being given free school milk from 1946 to 1971 when Margaret Thatcher, then education secretary, cut provision, a decision she is said to have later regretted.

He was a government adviser, running food rationing during the second world war until he fell out with politicians. His Nobel Peace Prize in 1947, may have been a consolation.

Experts say Orr's legacy on nutrition "transformed our understanding of the relationship between diet and health". 


He was also among a group of eminent scientists who were concerned about the potential misuse of scientific discoveries including nuclear weapons.

His conclusions were crystal clear: "health has a cost"

His legacy was celebrated with the unveiling of a blue plaque on Thursday at the University of Glasgow, where he studied medicine and biological sciences and where a building was named in his honour.

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The university said the plaque recognised Boyd Orr's "outstanding contributions to science and humanity, further enshrining his legacy in the fabric of the university where his career blossomed".


Born in Kilmaurs on September 23, 1880, after graduating he served as a ship’s surgeon for four months and for six weeks as a replacement for a vacationing doctor before accepting a two-year Carnegie research fellowship in physiology.

He went on to become a nutritional physiologist and in 1913 the Rowett Institute, now part of Aberdeen University, was established as a research centre under his direction.

His work established a link between low-income, malnutrition and under-achievement in schools and in 1927 his research proved the value of milk being supplied to school children, which led to free provision in the UK. 


His report “Food, Health and Income” published in 1936 showed that at least one-third of the UK population could not afford to buy sufficient food to provide a healthy diet. 

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He received a knighthood in 1935 and during the Second World War, Boyd Orr served as a member of Churchill’s Scientific Committee on Food Policy and helped to formulate food rationing

In 1949, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his "visionary work and advocacy of improved nutrition as a pathway to world peace". He died in 1971.

The honorary plaque was unveiled by Professor Godfrey Smith, Professor of Cardiovascular Physiology at The University of Glasgow at a ceremony hosted by The Physiological Society, of which Boyd Orr was a member.

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Professor David Attwell, society president, said, “We are honoured to be in Glasgow to unveil this plaque to remember John Boyd Orr. 

"He was the first scientist to find the link between poverty, poor diet and ill-health and his legacy on nutrition has transformed our understanding of the relationship between diet and health. 

"The Physiological Society’s Blue Plaque scheme raises the visibility of physiology and gives the wider public an insight into the positive role that ‘the science of life’ plays in their everyday lives.

"We hope that these plaques will spark curiosity and help inspire new generations to get involved in the physiological sciences.”

In 1960, Boyd Orr became the first president of the World Academy of Art and Science, an organisation set up by eminent scientists concerned about the potential misuse of scientific discoveries like nuclear weapons.

Ronald Baxendal, a Professor of Human Physiology at the University of Glasgow was among the speakers at yesterday's commemoration.

He said: "Before WW1, Boyd Orr was a world leader in identifying the link between poor nutrition and poor health.


"His problem was undernutrition linked to poverty. Our problem is now obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

"The solution lies in improving health by improving nutrition."

Professor Ada Garcia, also from the University of Glasgow added: "His conclusions were crystal clear, "health has a cost".

"He found that more deprived households had poorer diets and proposed the relationship between the quality of the diet and the risk for disease and death.

"This is the foundation of what many of us working in nutrition and public health do now."