Professor Hautvast studied both medicine and social anthropology at Radboud University in Nijmegen. After a training in tropical medicine he worked for a period of three years (1967–70) as medical officer in charge of a 72-bed Igogwe mission hospital in the south-western highlands in Tanzania. There he was confronted with serious nutritional health problems of people in that region. When he returned to Radboud Medical School he became interested in nutrition sciences.
He studied for a nutrition degree at Cambridge University/Dunn Nutrition Unit (1971–72). In 1972, he was appointed full Professor in Nutrition Sciences and Chairman of the Department of Human Nutrition at Wageningen University (WU). In 2000 he left WU and was succeeded by Professor Frans Kok as the new chairman. In 2000 he was appointed as Director of the Wageningen Centre of Food Sciences, a large public-private research institute. From 1994 to 2004 he served as Vice-President of the Health Council of the Netherlands. He was active in the International Union of Nutrition Sciences (IUNS) and served from 1985 to 1997 as Secretary-General. In 1996 he received the Royal Distinction of a Knighthood in the Order of the Dutch Lion. In 1983 he was appointed Correspondent Étranger Académie d’Agriculture de France. In 2004 he received the Honorary Doctorate at Potchefstroom University, South Africa. In 2005 he was appointed Fellow American Society Nutrition Sciences. Finally, he is proud to be the founding father of The European Nutrition Leadership Programme.