Obituaries: Professor Arnold Bender
Saturday 06 March 1999
He was a man of encyclopaedic knowledge, renowned for his rapid recall and his humorous anecdotes. His unassuming authority, and energy, brought him international recognition. He reached the age of 80 last summer and although having been officially retired for 15 years he remained as active, sprightly and physically unchanged as he was at the age of 40, until the last few months when cancer pulled him down.
Bender's final post before retirement in 1983 was as Professor of Nutrition and Dietetics and Head of the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at Queen Elizabeth College, London University (which two years later merged with King's College London). He had been appointed as Senior Lecturer in 1965 by the then Head of Department, Professor John Yudkin, who, having established the first BSc course in Nutrition in Europe there, had been asked to set up another degree in Food Science. Yudkin agreed to do so if he could appoint two senior staff; Arnold Bender and Ian Morton were recruited.
Bender was a born teacher, able to talk fluently and authoritatively off the cuff on a wide variety of topics. Facts were enlivened by amusing snippets, some gleaned from his collection of student exam blunders, the "June Gems". Coming from a background of academic and food industry research, he was in a strong position to link food science with nutrition.
He was born in 1918, and educated at Liverpool Institute High School. His first degrees were in Chemistry and Biochemistry from Liverpool University which he completed - both at first class level - just before the outbreak of the Second World War. During the war he was research chemist with British Drug Houses, working on vitamin A, the stability of fats and the production of antibiotics. He then moved to Sheffield for doctoral work as a Nuffield Research Fellow on the biological effects of X-radiation before being employed as Assistant Lecturer in Biochemistry in the department of the Nobel Laureate Professor Sir Hans Krebs, with whom he collaborated on amino acid metabolism. This work led him into the field of protein nutrition which was a main topic of his subsequent research.
Over the 15 years 1949-64 Bender worked on protein nutrition research in the food industry. This was the period when it was estimated internationally that a significant cause of malnutrition world-wide was protein deficiency partly due to a lack of supplies. He worked first as head of the Nutrition Team in Crookes Laboratories studying problems of protein nutrition and protein sources.
This work culminated in the development, with his colleague Derek Miller (also later appointed to Queen Elizabeth College), of the "Net Protein Utilisation" method of assaying the nutritive value of proteins, which became accepted as the Bender-Miller method. It was so widely used and cited in the scientific literature that it became a "citation classic". Although Miller responded to this accolade by noting that the premiss of a world-wide protein deficiency was later refuted, the method and the associated research was important in the understanding of protein requirements and their relationship to energy or total food requirements.
In 1954 Bender moved to Bovril, where he was head of the Research Department and continued work on protein nutrition, partly with United Nations agencies, and on the amino acid composition of several proteins including meat extracts. From 1961 he was head of Research and Development at Farley's Infant Foods, where he used his knowledge of protein composition in the development of new products for infant feeding.
His expertise in protein nutrition and food toxicology led to appointments on many influential national and European committees such as the Agricultural Research Council Committee on the Protein Quality Evaluation (1955-66); the Department of Health and Social Security Working Party on Protein Requirements (1963); the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food committees on Dietetic Foods, Composition of Foods, Irradiated and Novel Foods, and Naturally Occurring Toxic Substances in Food; and the European Committee for Co-operation in Science and Technology (1980-83).
He was also influential in the building of professional institutions through membership of the council of several learned bodies including the British Nutrition Society, Society of Chemical Industry, Royal Society of Health, and the Institute of Food Science and Technology, of which he was a founding member in 1962. The institute was established to provide a professional body for graduates in these subjects and has been effective in reinforcing the application of science to food. He later became President, and Vice-President, of the International Union of Food Science and Technology (IUFST).
Bender published many academic papers and books including the classic Food Processing and Nutrition (1978), Food Labelling (1991), Dictionary of Food and Nutrition (1995), Meat and Meat Products in Developing Countries (1992) and Nutrition, a Reference Handbook (1997) amongst others. He had the ability, rare amongst academics, to popularise sound science in an emotively charged topic - through such books as Health or Hoax?: the truth about health food and diet (1985).
He also collaborated on several books with his son David, who followed in his father's footsteps as a nutritional biochemist at University College London. (His other son, Brian, is also a scientist, with the Cabinet Office.) In Nutrition for Medical Students (1982), for example, they address a vexing problem that exists in many developed countries: while most of the population may consider the medical profession to be a reliable source of nutrition information, the subject occupies a small place in the medical curriculum.
Following Arnold Bender's wishes there will be no funeral. He will continue to teach, as he did through most of his life, by donating his body to science.
Arnold Eric Bender, nutritionist: born 24 July 1918; Research Fellow, National Institute of Radiotherapy, Sheffield 1945-47; Lecturer, Sheffield University 1947-49; Senior Lecturer in Nutrition, Queen Elizabeth College, London University 1965-71, Professor of Nutrition 1971-78, Professor of Nutrition and Dietetics, and Head of Department of Food Science and Nutrition 1978-83 (Emeritus); married 1941 Deborah Swift (two sons); died Fetcham, Surrey 21 February 1999.
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