Walter Mertz, M.D. - Inducted in the Agricultural Research Service Science Hall of Fame in 1995. (The Hall was established in 1986.)


The late Walter Mertz was a world-class authority in several areas of nutrition. He was one of the most prominent research scientists particularly in the area of trace elements in human nutrition. He is perhaps best known for discovering the relationship of chromium as an essential nutrient involved in the metabolism carbohydrates. Dr. Mertz was an active promoter of additional research chronic health disorders involving dietary risk factors and became director of the Nutrition Institute in Beltsville, Maryland in the year 1972 (now Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center), a position he held until his retirement in 1993. He died of lung cancer June 28, 2002, at his home in Rockville at age 79. He was the author of more than 200 scientific publications including contributions to several books.


In 1951 Walter received his MD degree in Germany at the University of Mainz. He interned at the County Hospital of Hersfeld as a surgeon, and later an assistant resident at the Medical University Hospital, Frankfurt. In 1953 his professional endeavors took him to the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. There he worked on nutritional aspects of liver disease and on the glucose tolerance factor, later identified as the trace element chromium. Between 1961-1969, at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Dr. Mertz as Chief of the Department of Biological Chemistry, continued his work on chromium in clinical studies. He later joined the United States Department of Agriculture, as chief, Vitamin and Mineral Nutrition Laboratory Human Nutrition Research Division, Agricultural Research Service.


From 1968 to 2000, he served on numerous Committees of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, including two terms as a member of the Food and Nutrition Board (1985-91). He was a co-author of several books including three editions of the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA's) and of the prestigious publication of the National Academy's "Diet, Nutrition and Cancer", one of the first reports to associate diet with human cancers. He was also an advisor to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, of the National Institutes of Health and the Surgeon General's Report on Nutrition and Health, 1988.

As a leading international authority on human nutrition, the advice of Dr. Mertz was sought by numerous academic institutions, prestigious societies, and governments. He received many honors, appointments, and awards both in the U.S. several foreign countries. On more than one occasion he was invited to make presentations at the Nobel Symposium in Sweden and the Royal Society of London. He was elected by his peers as a Fellow of the American Institute of Nutrition. Dr. Mertz served as Chairman of the Committee that issued worldwide recommendations for trace element nutriture of humans in 1996, and also was an advisor to the World Health Organization (WHO) of the United Nations. His retirement seminar entitled "A Century of Research on Human Nutrition and Beyond" was broadcast several times by C-Span television and estimated to have been viewed by several million.

Dr. Mertz mastered English early in his career and served on numerous editorial boards, including editor of the two-volume text entitled "Trace Elements in Human and Animal Nutrition", recognized globally as the most authoritative on the subject, and also Associate Editor of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, one of the most prestigious of nutrition journals

"For contributions and leadership in elucidating the importance to the health of several trace elements and promoting research on dietary risk factors for chronic disorders".