Review Article

One Page in the History of Starvation and Refeeding

Deborah E-S Hemstreet and George M. Weisz


There is a long history of starvation, including reports dated back to antiquity. Despite exceptional scientific developments, starvation still exists today. The medical aspects of starvation were well established in the twentieth century, particularly following studies related to the 1943–1944 Bengal famine in India and starved prisoners of war and survivors of World War 2. The refeeding of the starved victims provided disappointing results. Nevertheless, those studies eventually led to the development of a new branch of research in medicine and to the definition of what is now known as refeeding syndrome. This paper briefly reviews the history and groundwork that led to today’s understanding of starvation and refeeding, with a particular emphasis on the observations from studies on starved Holocaust survivors and prisoners of war after World War 2. The relevance of these studies for modern times is briefly discussed.

Rambam Maimonides Med J 2024;15(2):e0010