Elsie Widdowson (1900-2000) was an influential British nutritionist of the 20th century. She made major contributions to the field of nutrition and human health, conducting pioneering research on human nutrition and developing the first UK food composition tables. Her research ranged from undernourishment and malnutrition, to the vitamin content of food, to the science of nutrition and aging. During her distinguished career, Widdowson advocated for the importance of good nutrition and improved public health to the scientific community, governments and members of the public.


Elsie Widdowson was born in 1900 in Leytonstone, London, England. She began her education at Prythchfield College in London, and went on to receive her medical degrees at the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine in London. Widdowson trained as a doctor, but became interested in nutrition when she was in medical school, working part-time as a laboratory assistant in nutrition studies.

In 1924 Widdowson was offered an appointment as a Research Assistant in Nutrition at the Central Laboratory of the London County Council. For the next 35 years, she would be researching and developing new methods for analyzing the nutrient content of food. During World War II, she continued her research, studying the effects of rationing on the health of the British population.

Widdowson’s Contributions to Nutrition

Elsie Widdowson made a number of important contributions to nutrition throughout her career. During her time at the London County Council, Widdowson conducted pioneering research, investigating the causes of undernourishment and malnutrition and determining the effects of diet on human health. She also developed the first UK food composition tables, providing essential nutrition information.

In addition, Widdowson played an important role in the development of the science of nutrition and aging. During the 1950s, she researched the effects of nutrition on the elderly, and in 1962 she published an influential study, The Physiology of Human Nutrition, that provided insight into nutrition and health.

Widdowson is also credited with two books, Food, Nutrition and Health (1961) and The Chemistry of Food and Nutrition (1964). These books explored the importance of good nutrition for human health and provided essential food composition and nutrition information for the public.

Later Life

Later in life, Widdowson continued to promote the importance of good nutrition and improved public health. In 1989, at the age of 89, she was awarded the CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) for her service to science and for her dedication to nutrition education. In 1988, Widdowson was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, becoming the first female nutritionist to be awarded this distinction.

Throughout her life Widdowson advocated for the importance of good nutrition, and in her later years she lectured on nutrition to medical students and gave talks to members of the public. In 1998, at the age of 98, she was featured in the BBC series “Our Food” which explored nutrition and its importance for human health.


Despite her death in 2000, Widdowson’s legacy lives on. A crater on Venus’s surface is named after her, and in 2004 the Royal Society of Chemistry named an award—the Elsie Widdowson Award—after her to recognize her contributions to nutrition and research.

In 2017 the Elsie Widdowson Memorial Symposium was held at Cambridge University to mark Elsie Widdowson’s 117th birthday, where scientists and experts discussed the success of her contributions to nutrition, her influence on modern nutrition, and the methods she developed for analyzing the nutrient content of food.

Elsie Widdowson is remembered as one of the most influential nutritionists of the 20th century. Her research into undernourishment, malnutrition, and the vitamin content of food was pioneering, and her development of the first UK food composition tables was essential for medical science. Widdowson was a passionate advocate for the importance of nutrition in public health and her legacy lives on, inspiring modern nutritionists to continue her work and promote good nutrition.