Neal Barnard has been making a difference for more than two decades as one of America's leading advocates for improved health, better nutrition and higher ethical standards in scientific research and medicine.
At one time, it was common practice for scientists to use live dogs in medical school training. But Barnard refused to participate when he was a student. The non-profit advocacy and research group he founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, helped end the practice.
"When we started, 'dog lab' was just about part of every medical student's training. We made it a point to let medical schools know that there is a better way of teaching. And now more than 90 percent of the schools have scrapped that."
Barnard's Washington-based organization has grown to more than 7,000 members. It campaigns for higher ethical standards in research and promotes studies on the critical role diet plays in preventing many life threatening diseases. Barnard's recent diabetes study finds that a vegetarian diet is more effective in controlling blood sugar than the diet recommended by the American Diabetes Association.
"When we look at the changes week after week, we see dramatic weight loss," Barnard says. "Their cholesterol levels fall. Their energy levels improve. You see people who are signing up for marathons when they never thought they would do that before."
Barnard is a popular motivational speaker in the United States. He has produced video seminars and written more than a dozen books on health and nutrition. After more than 20 years of medical activism, he says there is still a lot of hard work to be done helping people live healthier lives.
"We are seeing more obesity, more health problems. And this is really following more and more meat, dairy-based fatty, sugary diets," he says. "And that means the answer is not entirely medicine. The answer is advocacy. The answer is sometimes litigation. The answer is changing the laws that determine what people eat and what they know."
Barnard is currently leading a campaign to get nutrition into medical school curricula. And he is calling on Congress to mandate vegetarian options in the nation's primary and secondary schools, while continuing his battle for ethical treatment of animals in research.