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About Sickkids
About SickKids

Frederick Tisdall

This web page was updated in 2019 to more accurately depict Dr. Tisdall’s work and legacy. His important contributions to children’s health are discussed as is his involvement in experiments conducted in residential schools, which caused significant harm to Indigenous children.

As an organization, The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) bears responsibility for having allowed Dr. Tisdall’s unethical and harmful research to occur. SickKids is committed to providing equitable care for all our patients and families and to acknowledging when the organization has fallen far short of its obligations to protect the populations we serve. The hospital is working to develop an Indigenous Health Strategy with the aim of making SickKids a culturally safe place for Indigenous peoples to receive care and participate in research.

1921-1941

After joining SickKids in 1921, Dr. Frederick Tisdall came into prominence in 1929 as the director of the Nutritional Research Laboratories at the hospital. The most pressing problem facing the staff of the laboratory was preparing nutritious food for babies. Dr. Tisdall, along with Dr. Theodore Drake, made the production of a perfect infant food their main goal.

The doctors discovered how to make a mixture that contained all the essential vitamins and minerals that babies needed, without undue constipation or diarrhea. The research team then produced a cereal with many of the same ingredients that could be mixed with milk and spoon fed so it was easy for infants to eat. For three months, babies and older children in the hospital were fed the new cereal. They liked it, didn’t become constipated and their health improved. However, the cereal required a lengthy cooking process, which was a serious drawback in providing it to households.

At the time, the practice of drying milk by letting it drip on a red-hot revolving drum and immediately scraping it off was coming into use. The researchers tried this technique with their cooked cereal and it worked. The mixture came off the drum as a bone-dry, flaky powder - a baby food that would keep indefinitely. They called it "Pablum". The Mead Johnson Company in Chicago was given permission to manufacture Pablum and SickKids would receive a royalty on every box sold. In subsequent years, earnings from Pablum financed further research to improve children’s health.

During his time at SickKids, Tisdall was the author of “The Home Care of the Infant and Child” and co-author with Alan Brown of the textbook, “Common Procedures in the Practice of Paediatrics”. He also published more than 125 scientific articles, most on the subject of nutrition. He was chairman of committees on nutrition for the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Red Cross, a member of the Canadian Council on Nutrition, the Food and Nutrition Board, National Research Council, Washington, and a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Canada.

1942-1949

Between 1942 and 1949, on behalf of the Department of Indian Affairs of Canada, Dr. Tisdall led harmful experiments on malnourished populations in Indigenous communities and residential schools12. During these experiments, essential vitamins were withheld from children. The experiments were conducted without the children or their parents’ consent. By modern standards of medical research ethics, these studies would not have been approved. Furthermore, the findings did little to alleviate the underlying causes of malnutrition for Indigenous children and the health risks experienced over the course of the studies would have outweighed any benefits received.

When he died, suddenly at the age of 56, he was an Associate Professor of Paediatrics, University of Toronto, a Physician at SickKids, and Director of Research Laboratories, Department of Paediatrics, at SickKids.

While Dr. Tisdall’s body of work benefited many children; the same was not true for Indigenous children. As an organization, SickKids bears responsibility for having allowed Dr. Tisdall’s unethical research to occur. SickKids extends our sincere apologies to Indigenous children, families, and communities that were negatively impacted by the events described above. With recognition of historical context, SickKids is committed to a path of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples that is based on truth, mutual respect and partnership. See an overview of work to date.


1http://muse.jhu.edu/article/512043
2https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3941673/#b2-pch19064