Food Standards Scotland is saddened to learn that Professor Phil James sadly lost his battle with lifelong lung disease and died in the early hours of Friday 6th October 2023.
Professor James qualified in physiology and medicine at University College London, before working at the Medical Research Council Unit in Tropical Metabolism in Jamaica for three years. He then moved on to Harvard University as a Wellcome Trust Fellow before returning to the UK, where he organised and delivered public health/nutrition teaching at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. From 1974-82 he ran the Dunn Clinical Nutrition Centre and was Director of the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen from 1982-1999, and was elected to Fellowship of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (FRSE) in 1986.
In 1999 Professor James returned to the London School of Hygiene with his newly established International Obesity Task Force. His research career started with the development of new approaches to treating malnourished children, before developing the current scientific approaches to assessing individual and national food and energy needs.
Professor James chaired and wrote the first public health nutrition policy reports for Scotland, and several policy reports for the UK, before chairing and writing reports for WHO Europe, and then the WHO 797 report on diet and public health for malnourished and chronic disease prone countries.
He helped establish the World Cancer Research Fund in the UK and served on all three of its panels. He also established and chaired the International Obesity Task Force, organized the first WHO global burden analysis of obesity, the UN Millennium Report on Nutrition for the UN Secretary General, and established the World Obesity Federation (formerly IASO) as the global science, treatment and policy obesity NGO of which he was President from 2007-2014.
On 30th April 1997, his interim proposals for establishing a Food Standards Agency were published (The James Report). On 8th May 1997 Tony Blair, Prime Minister, welcomed the report “I thank Professor James for his detailed and considered report. It provides an excellent foundation upon which the Government can build. It confirms my belief that we will benefit from a powerful Food Standards Agency. We need to create a structure that is open and transparent, and which acts – and is seen to act – in the interests of consumers”. A Ministerial group on Food Safety was formed, leading directly to The Food Standards Act 1999 and the formation of the UK Food Standards Agency.
He also advised EU President Jacques Delors on establishing the Directorate General for Health and Consumer Protection (DG-SANCO) in Brussels before developing the EU global analyses and policies for coping with the tissue and geographical risk evaluations of bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Following this, he became the chief advisor on nutritional aspects of public health initiatives for the WHO Eastern Mediterranean and European Regions, covering 75 countries.
In June 1997 the World Health Organisation (WHO) convened an expert consultation in Geneva that formed the basis for a report chaired by Professor James that defined obesity not merely as a coming social catastrophe, but as an "epidemic".
He chaired and wrote the UN Commission’s report on global issues in nutrition and was Vice President of the International Union of Nutritional Sciences.
In 2019 he received a special Lifetime Achievement Award for his outstanding contributions to the nation’s food and health.
Professor James is survived by his wife Jean, daughter Claire, son Mark and 4 grandchildren.