Jayne Greer Hurley, Sanford High Class of 1975, is "America's Food Detective." The best-known nutritionist in the country, Ms. Hurley's groundbreaking work has helped improved the lives of millions of people. She regularly appears on nearly every morning and evening network news program, and her work has appeared in hundreds of newspapers across the country.
After attending Sanford High School, Ms. Hurley graduated from the University of Maine at Orono, summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in food nutrition. She then interned at the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond. Ms. Hurley was also a a Research Nutritionist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. Her greatest accomplishments have come at her current position at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization that works on science policy issues related to health, nutrition, and food safety.
Ms. Hurley's work at CSPI has focused on the health effects of fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol; nutrition education, and a series of award-winning studies analyzing Chinese, Italian, Mexican, and other restaurant foods, as well as movie-theater popcorn. She writes for CSPI's Nutrition Action Healthletter, which has nearly one million subscribers. She has been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, U.S. News and World Report, Time, Newsweek, and Business Week. Her media work includes regular appearances on ABC's World News Tonight, NBC's Nightly News, CBS's Evening News, The Oprah Winfrey Show, ABC's 20/20, CBS's 48 Hours, NBC's Dateline, CNN, CBS This Morning, ABC's Good Morning America, Entertainment Tonight, National Public Radio, and other TV and radio programs.
Ms. Hurley's health reports are widely respected. Within days after she criticized movie popcorn as the "Godzilla of snacks," all but one of the country's major theater chains switched to low-fat cooking oil after they saw their popcorn sales plummet. The day after another press conference on Chinese food, a delegation from the People's Republic of China paid a visit to her Washington office.
Ms. Hurley has done more for the health of people around the nation than perhaps any living person.
SANFORD &endash; Jayne Greer Hurley has been called "America's Food Detective."
One of the best known nutritionists in the country, Hurley's work at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has helped improve the lives of countless people.
Hurley's work at CSPI has focused on such topics as the health effects of fat, saturated fat, and nutrition education.
However, it was a series of studies which analyzed the nutritional content of various restaurant foods which brought Hurley the most publicity. Just days after she denounced most movie theater popcorn for being too high in fat, popcorn sales at theaters plummeted and most national theater chains switched to low-fat cooking oil as a result.
It is for her work in the field of nutrition that Jayne Greer Hurley has been selected as a member of the Sanford High School Hall of Fame Class of 2001.
Hurley says that she did not expect her old high school would choose to immortalize her in its hall of fame.
"I was very surprised," says Hurley. "I think like most kids, I didn't feel like I sailed through high school."
Despite the fact that she didn't feel that high school came easily, Hurley says that she enjoyed her time at SHS. "I had a lot of fun in high school," Hurley says.
Hurley's high school years were packed with a wide variety of activities. She was in band for four years, culminating in her being named first chair trumpet in her senior year. She was also a member of the student council, as well as a two-sport athlete. "I lettered in track and field hockey," she says. "I really enjoyed sports."
After graduating from SHS in 1975, Hurley moved on to the University of Maine, where she originally majored in zoology.
But a trip to Pat's Pizza in Orono during her junior year changed Hurley's major&endash;and her life.
Hurley says that she went out for pizza with some of the women in her dorm. One of the women was a food nutrition major, and Hurley says that they got into a discussion about the nutritional value of the pizza that they were eating.
"I never thought about what was in what I'm eating," says Hurley. "I just thought it was fascinating."
Soon after that night, Hurley says that she switched her major to food nutrition. "I'm glad I made the switch," she says.
After graduating from the University of Maine in 1979, Hurley went on to the Medical College of Virginia for a dietetic internship.
According to Hurley, after completing this year-long internship, she became a registered dietitian.
Once the internship was over, Hurley moved on to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, where she worked as a dietitian.
Hurley did not enjoy the life as a hospital dietitian. "I found that was definitely not for me," she says.
"You're walking into someone's room after they had a heart attack and chastise them (for their diet)," says Hurley. "It's putting the cart before the horse."
After reaching that conclusion, Hurley says that she participated in a research project that was studying
the effects of diet and exercise on men. "(The project was) trying to isolate the effects of good diet versus exercise," Hurley says.
While conducting the studies, Hurley says that she began to take a different view of nutrition. "I saw nutrition as something that should be a public-based approach," Hurley says.
In order to spread the word, Hurley decided to join CSPI, a Washington, D.C. based non-profit organization that works to educate the public about nutrition.
"(At CSPI) we are working to make changes," says Hurley. She has been with CSPI for 13 years,
but her work has not been without its share of controversy.
It started with a study that Hurley conducted in 1992 for CSPI on the nutritional content of Chinese food.
The results of the study were surprising. It revealed that some Chinese food contained as much saturated fat as three Big Macs.
Once the report was released, it generated a firestorm of controversy for Hurley and CSPI. "We were shocked," says Hurley. "It caught on like wildfire."
The national media caught on to the story, and Hurley was in demand. "There were camera crews out the door," she says.
The report generated so much attention, that it eventually raised concerns at the Chinese embassy, which sent representatives to Hurley's office, asking her to retract the story, saying that the report would harm Chinese restaurants. "They were just worried about the livelihood of Chinese restaurant owners," Hurley says.
While she says that she sympathized with the Chinese, Hurley says that she maintained that the results of the study were accurate. "Unfortunately, my hands were tied," Hurley says. "I stood behind my study, it was what it was."
Looking back, Hurley now says she feels some regret over the amount of publicity that the Chinese food study received. Subsequent studies on other restaurant foods such as Italian and Mexican have shown that some of those foods have just as high of a fat content as Chinese. However, since the Chinese food study was the first one ever done, it generated the most publicity.
Another study in which Hurley made a national impact was when she denounced movie theater popcorn as "the Godzilla of snacks."
While studying movie theater popcorn, Hurley discovered that because most of the national theater chains used high-fat coconut oil to make their popcorn, a small unbuttered bag contained a high amount of fat.
Within a week or two after the study was released, Hurley says that plummeting sales of popcorn forced chains to switch to a healthier popping oil. "That was a success," says Hurley.
Needless to say, her studies have sometimes made Hurley a controversial figure. According to Hurley, she does not mind the fallout from those studies, as long as they bring results.
"I was initially bothered by it," she says. "But sometimes you have to make waves to get something done."
Though she says her work will keep her in the Washington area for the foreseeable future, Hurley says that she misses Maine, and still considers herself a Mainer. "I really miss the lifestyle that Maine has to offer," she says.
Hurley says that she returns to Sanford in the summers to visit her family's camp on Mousam Lake and to get a taste of lobster and her mother Mildred's baked beans. "My roots are firmly planted in Sanford," says Hurley. "In one sense, I feel like I never left."
Hurley also has some advice to offer current Sanford High School students. "Try lots of different things," she says. "High school is a really good opportunity to try your hand at a lot of different things....(you) really get a taste for what you might like."
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© 2004 Sanford High School