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Cecile H. Edwards Dies at Age 78; Howard Professor, Nutrition Expert

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By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 24, 2005

Cecile Hoover Edwards, 78, a Howard University professor and dean who was a leading authority on the nutrition of African Americans, died Sept. 17 at the Washington Home hospice in the District. She had respiratory failure.

An internationally known expert on nutrition, Dr. Edwards focused much of her career on the study of eating habits of black women during pregnancy. She also established a doctoral program in nutrition at Howard, the only such program at a historically black college or university in the United States.

Dr. Edwards was dean of the School of Human Ecology from 1974 to 1986. (The school was eliminated in 1991.) She also was dean of the university's School of Continuing Education (1986-87) and interim dean of the College of Pharmacy, Nursing and Allied Health Sciences (1997-98).

From 1985 to 1991, she was principal investigator in a $4.5 million study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health on nutrition and other factors affecting pregnancy in African American women. After examining historical dietary patterns in the South, Dr. Edwards found that several inexpensive traditional dishes, such as lima beans and black-eyed peas, were excellent sources of protein for expectant mothers and children. Noting that modern diets contain too much fat, she developed dietary plans to reduce the amount of fat in African American cooking.

From the 1950s into the 1970s, Dr. Edwards conducted an 18-year research study for NIH on the metabolism of methionine, an amino acid essential to nutrition. She also had research studies funded by the Agriculture Department, the National Science Foundation and the Atomic Energy Commission. She spent two years in India in the 1960s studying food and nutrition.

In more recent years, Dr. Edwards looked beyond nutrition and aimed her studies toward finding ways to improve the health and well-being of African Americans and other minorities. In a 1992 paper, she challenged the findings of Arthur Jensen, a controversial psychologist who believed that the lower scores of blacks on intelligence tests had a genetic basis. Dr. Edwards concluded that nutrition, psychology, medical care, school quality and a range of social and environmental factors were at least as responsible as heredity.

Cecile Annette Hoover Edwards was born in East St. Louis, Ill., and finished high school at 15. She graduated from what is now Tuskegee University in Alabama and received a master's degree in chemistry from Tuskegee in 1947, before she turned 21.

After receiving a doctorate in nutrition from Iowa State University in 1950, she returned to Tuskegee as a faculty member and researcher, chairing the department of foods and nutrition for four years.

In 1956, she took a position at North Carolina A&T State University. She moved to Washington in 1971 and was chairman of Howard's department of home economics before launching the School of Human Ecology in 1974. When she retired from Howard in 1999, she was named an emeritus professor.

In addition to her expertise on African American nutrition and pregnancy, Dr. Edwards conducted research on pica, or the habitual eating of clay, starch, paste and other nonfood items.

Dr. Edwards wrote more than 160 scholarly papers and was the co-author of a book, "Human Ecology: Interaction of Man With His Environments" (1991). She also worked as a consultant, gave testimony before Congress and served on committees and panels for NIH, the Agriculture Department and the White House Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health.

She received many honors from Howard, Tuskegee, Iowa State and North Carolina A&T and was cited three times for her academic achievements by the legislature of her native Illinois.

Outside her teaching and scholarly career, Dr. Edwards was considered a superb cook.

Her husband of 54 years, Dr. Gerald A. Edwards, died in June.

Survivors include three children, Gerald A. Edwards Jr. of Washington, Adrienne A. Edwards of Accokeek and Hazel R. Edwards of Lanham; two sisters; two brothers; eight grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

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