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Ernst Wynder; Cancer Research Pioneer

Obituaries

July 19, 1999|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dr. Ernst Wynder, pioneering cancer researcher and the founding president of the American Health Foundation, has died at the age of 77.

Wynder, one of the first to warn of smoking as a cause of cancer, died Wednesday in a New York City hospital of thyroid cancer.

A research endocrinologist, he also uncovered links between nutrition and cancer and was among the first to associate fat intake with leading cancers of the colon and endocrine-related organs.

Wynder formed his nonprofit American Health Foundation in 1969, and guided it until his death, making it one of the most respected private research centers for preventive medicine and health maintenance.

In 1950, while studying for his doctor of medicine degree at Washington University in St. Louis, Wynder joined his professor Evarts A. Graham in conducting what is considered the first study to link smoking with lung cancer. Of 605 men with the disease, they found that 97% were heavy smokers.

Wynder later provided biological proof that tobacco smoke contained a cancer-producing substance, and as a researcher with New York's Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, linked heavy tobacco use with cancers of the mouth, esophagus, larynx, pancreas and bladder.

As a result of his nutrition studies, Wynder and his foundation launched a program in the mid-1970s to educate schoolchildren about how what they eat could influence lifelong health. UCLA's Center for Health Enhancement subsequently joined Wynder in his "Know Your Body Program," extending the work to schools in California.

"Improving the health habits of our nation's children should be one of the principal goals of an education," Wynder told The Times in 1983. "There are high prevalences of drug and alcohol abuse, elevated cholesterol levels, poor physical fitness. If we are serious about our children, we should give them the gift of health. Health education should be considered one of the arts, along with reading, writing and arithmetic."

As early as 1974, Wynder told a meeting of the American College of Nutrition that he believed half of all female cancer deaths and 30% of all male cancer deaths could be related to nutritional factors. He said he was not referring to any problems with food additives, but to "deficiencies and excesses in the regular diet."

Born in Herford, Germany, Wynder came to the United States as a teenager and graduated from New York University. He became an American citizen in 1943 and served in World War II as an Army intelligence officer.

Throughout his career in cancer research, Wynder wrote widely, and he was a principal author of the 1988 book "Environmental Aspects of Cancer: The Role of Macro and Minor Components of Food."

He is survived by his wife, the former Sandra Miller, and a sister, Lore Levinson.

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