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Jean (Jeannie) Wise McNaughton 1919-2003.

Jean McNaughton was born in Swan Hill, Victoria. Her father was a grazier and her mother was the matron in her own small private hospital. They had two daughters. There is no doubt that her early family life provided the basis for the loyalty she expressed through her actions, and the significant contribution she made to her communities in adult life.


Jean won a scholarship to Presbyterian Ladies College East Melbourne and enrolled there at the age of 16 as a full boarder for Leaving Certificate in 1936. An uncle took her to the Science Exhibition at Melbourne Town Hall so she went to school for another year so that she could enter the science course at the University of Melbourne. In 1937 she was a Senior Prefect and Dux of the School with an Exhibition in Animal Biology and First Class Honours in French.

She continued her record of achievement through scholarships to the University of Melbourne and the University Women's College (now University College) where she studied science (chemistry major), graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1940. Her course included lectures on nutrition which had been organised by Professor W. Osborne, the 'father of dietetics' in Victoria.

Jean began to work as a biochemist at Lever Brothers and then at the Melbourne Blood Bank. Her friend and fellow graduate Lesley Falloon (1) encouraged her to apply through Dr Fred Clements for employment with the Commonwealth Health Department Institute of Anatomy. In the company of eight other young Australians they went off for a year around Australia to study the effects of the second world war on the diet of Australians. She studied the nutrition of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory and Western Australia (2), and the influence of maternal prenatal diet on the wellbeing of mothers and their infants.

Her developing interest in nutrition then led her to enter and graduate from the School of Dietetics at the Royal Melbourne Hospital in 1949, and to join the Dietetic Association of Victoria in 1950. She undertook research at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, and also worked in a number of hospital positions for dietitians.

Jean was the 1951 Victorian representative to the Australian Dietetic Council (the early coalition of State Dietetic Associations), and was appointed official Council delegate to the 1st International Dietetic Congress held in Amsterdam 7-11 July 1952.

The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) had been founded by the United Nations in 1945. 'Since its inception, FAO has worked to alleviate poverty and hunger by promoting agricultural development, improved nutrition and the pursuit of food security--defined as the access of all people at all times to the food they need for an active and healthy life.' (3). Jean took an appointment with the FAO in Rome in 1952, and then later in Washington.

Her beloved sister Margaret Mary was the Secretary-General of the Royal Australian Nursing Federation in 1958-62, and in the early 1960s Jean felt the call of home and she took leave from FAO for several years to assist in the care of her ageing mother in Melbourne. During this time she took the opportunity to undertake post-graduate work at her alma mater, the University of Melbourne, and was President of the Dietetic Association of Victoria in 1961-62.

She had the distinction of being the very first Australian dietitian known to have achieved a PhD from an Australian university (4). Her thesis, titled 'A study of the energy expenditure and food intake of a group of adolescents', was the report of a study of young people--their food intake and meal patterns were investigated, together with physical activity. In working with Professor Trikojus and Audrey Cahn in the Biochemistry School at the University of Melbourne over these several years, she contributed to the work and publications of the longitudinal Melbourne Growth Study.

In 1960 the FAO had initiated the Freedom from Hunger campaign. It was a community campaign to raise world awareness of the plight of people in poverty and to provide opportunities for developing countries to support anti-poverty campaigns in the developing world. The first meeting in Australia took place in 1961 and one million pounds was raised in its first year. Jean was actively working with South Australian politician, Don Dunstan on Community Aid Abroad (now OXFAM) initiatives in this area, and organised the attendance of dietitians at the 1966 Melbourne Freedom from Hunger campaign in the Royal Exhibition Building Annex to raise money for the campaign. Jean worked tirelessly to remove sanctions from Third World countries.

In 1967 Jean was Vice-President of the Australian Dietetic Council. She left Melbourne towards the end of the year to rejoin the Nutrition Division of the FAO in Rome. Her later contributions to the profession of dietetics in Australia were as distant ambassador and generous Rome hostess to her many friends, many of whom visited her on their trips to Europe and vice versa. She became an elected member of the Council of English Speaking Churches in Rome, which supported the development of pharmacies in southern Sudan and Ethiopia.

She was an honoured and invited speaker at the International Congress of Dietetics held in Sydney in 1977, when she spoke on the topic 'Dietitians around the world' and again questioned the narrow guidelines for the training of dietitians, considering that an outwardly looking professional person is required, to work in a multidisciplinary team in the area of preventing ill health, rather than the curing of disease (5).

While working at the FAO in Rome in the 1970s, Jean and a small group of colleagues developed the idea that was to become World Food Day. This important day was established by the member countries of the FAO 20th General Conference in November 1979. Since observed annually in at least 150 countries on 16 October (the anniversary of the founding of FAO), it has grown into an astounding international effort which creates awareness of the nature and dimensions of world food problems. Today the World Food Day web site ( is testament to the enduring legacy of ideas which Jean helped to develop over 20 years ago.

Jean travelled extensively in Africa and the Middle East on behalf of FAO. She retired as Chief of the Nutrition Programmes Service, Food Policy and Nutrition Division at the FAO in Rome, having made a substantial contribution to the work of the organisation and the field of nutrition. As a mark of their appreciation, her former colleagues at FAO have contributed directly to her recognition (see letter to the Editor on pages 54-5); and in so doing they have made a significant contribution to the history of the profession of dietetics in Australia.

On her retirement and return to Melbourne in 1982, Jean was elected to, and became President of, the University College Council at the University of Melbourne in the 1980s. Despite the limitation of severe rheumatoid arthritis. Jean continued her philanthropic work, travelled regularly to attend Sydney National Executive meetings of the Australian Freedom from Hunger Campaign for the Third World. She was also committed to and participated in the activities of Nutrition Australia (formerly the Australian Nutrition Foundation). Loyal to her roots and keen to record the early history of the profession of dietetics in Victoria, in 1985 she contributed 'The history of dietetics in Victoria' (6). Fundamental to the way she lived her life was her later service as an Elder in the Toorak Uniting Church and as an ecumenical counsellor for St Johns Anglican Church, St Peters Roman Catholic Church and the Uniting Church in Toorak.

Jean's small stature and modest and pleasant manner belied an insistent and quiet assertiveness as a highly professional and competent person. Her lifelong and loyal friends attest to her great capacity for affection, goodness, fun, integrity, and generosity. By just being herself she was a magnificent ambassador, and worked tirelessly and in any way she could to improve food security in communities across the world and in her own country.


Sincere thanks for their contributions is expressed to Kraisid Tontisirin, Franz Simmersbach, Wilma Collie and Lesley Falloon.


1. Falloon L. Woman of global influence helped feed the hungry. The Age, 26 May 2003; Business Section; 7 (Obituary).

2. National Health and Medical Research Council. Report of Committee of Inquiry into the medical aspects of the decline of the birth rate. Includes the Report of the Special Investigation by Drs CP Schofield and A Wheildon and Miss J McNaughton and Miss L Best. NHMRC Special Report Series Number 4. Commonwealth Department of Health, Canberra; Government Printer; 1948.

3. Food and Agricultural Organization.

4. McNaughton, JW. Study of energy expenditure and food intake of a group of adolescents [PhD thesis]. Melbourne; University of Melbourne; 1965.

5. McNaughton, J. Dietitians around the world (abstract). 7th International Congress of Dietetics, Sydney, 4-10 May 1977: p. 19. Australian Association of Dietitians; 1977.

6. McNaughton, J. The history of dietetics in Victoria. J Food Nutr 1985;42:105-11.

Beverley Wood, Melbourne
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Title Annotation:Obituary
Author:Wood, Beverley
Publication:Nutrition & Dietetics: The Journal of the Dietitians Association of Australia
Article Type:Obituary
Date:Mar 1, 2004
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