Death of polar trek heroes blamed on inadequate diet

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Captain Scott and other members of his ill-fated expedition to the South Pole were effectively killed by a slimming diet, research has shown.

The men expended more energy than Olympic athletes as they hand-hauled their supplies on sledges across hundreds of miles of ice and snow.

Their rations were too high in protein and too low in fat, and simply did not deliver enough calories, say scientists. As a result, the polar explorers starved to death.

“There has been much speculation about what Scott died of,” said lead researcher Dr Lewis Halsey, from the University of Roehampton in London. “Almost certainly his death was due to chronic and extreme emaciation.”

Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s disastrous attempt to be the first to the South Pole began in June 1910 as he set off from Cardiff in the whaling ship Terra Nova.

Appalling conditions greeted the explorers in Antarctica, proving too much for the mechanical sledges, ponies and dogs they brought with them.

By January 1912 only Scott and four other members of his expedition remained and had to haul their supplies across the Antarctic plateau by hand.

On January 17 they reached the pole, only to find that a Norwegian party led by Roald Amundsen had beaten them.

They faced a return journey of nearly 1,000 miles. Scott and his last two companions, Edward Wilson and Henry Bowers, died in their tent on March 29, 1912. They were just 11 miles from a supply depot.

Dr Halsey’s team examined the expedition in light of today’s knowledge of nutrition.

Scott’s rations consisted of biscuits, pemmican (a concentrated fat and protein mixture), butter, sugar, chocolate, cereals and raisins, with initial supplements of pony meat.

The study, to be presented this weekend at the annual meeting of the Society for Experimental Biology in Salzburg, Austria, suggests they were inadequate.

Each of the polar explorers were burning nearly 7,000 calories a day, it is estimated. They were consuming only around 4,400 calories.

Today’s elite six-day event cyclists burn around 6,500 calories per day.