A 57-YEAR FOLLOW-UP INVESTIGATION AND REVIEW OF THE MINNESOTA STUDY ON HUMAN STARVATION AND ITS RELEVANCE TO EATING DISORDERS
Objective: This follow-up study reports on 19 of 36 male participants in the Minnesota Semi-Starvation Experiment. As systematic data were obtained for only 3 months of controlled nutritional rehabilitation following 6 months of semi-starvation, the follow-up aim was to re-examine the acute effects and inquire into possible long term physical and psychosocial effects from undergoing semi-starvation. The experiment has been a source of information for understanding eating disorders, particularly anorexia nervosa. Therefore, another aim was to examine the relevance of any starvation-induced symptomatic changes to eating disorders.
Method: Semi-structured phone interviews were employed to explore 1) physical and psychological consequences of semi-starvation and nutritional rehabilitation 2) eating and weight changes during and since completion of the experiment, and 3) quality of the participants’ lives following completion of the experiment.
Results: Participants proceeded to lead interesting and productive lives, free of life-long adverse effects. Personality differences, inferred from the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, likely influenced the severity of the psychopathological reactions to starvation. Many participants reported maintaining a higher than normal weight and had abnormal eating habits for many months and even years before returning to “normal” state.
Discussion: Reestablishment of normal body weight took significantly longer than suggested in the original experiment, and might therefore constitute a factor contributing to the extended course of illness and tendency to relapse in eating disorders. The preservation of energy and normal to high activity levels in the presence of signs of severe weight loss and starvation and body image disturbances seen in anorexia nervosa were not observed nor reported in the Minnesota Semi-starvation Experiment.