Walter Kempner was born in 1903 in Germany. He joined Duke in 1934 as a member of the Department of Medicine. Kempner was interested in the effect of diet on various diseases including hypertension and diabetes. Observing that those diseases were relatively rare where rice was a staple food, Kempner came up with a formula of rice, fruit, juices and vitamins. Kempner tracked the effectiveness of the Rice Diet through eye-ground tests. These scans of the vessels of the retina revealed overall health, including hypertension. Since the 1930s, Kempner and his associates have employed the Rice Diet to treat more than 18,000 patients from all around the world.
Walter Kempner retired from Duke University in 1974 and from the Rice Diet program in 1994. He died in 1997 at the age of 93. Some of his colleagues continue to sustain the Kempner Foundation.