HEALTH: The D-Day Diet to Beat Obesity

Coventry Evening Telegraph (England), May 31, 2004 | Go to article overview

HEALTH: The D-Day Diet to Beat Obesity


Byline: Karen Hambridge

SIXTY years ago health scares were probably more to do with TB than having too much fried food.

While we worry about obesity and coronary heart disease being modern epidemics the people on the homefront were more concerned with eating enough, not too much.

As the anniversary of D-Day approaches KAREN HAMBRIDGE takes a look at the public health report for Coventry in 1944.

WHILE our boys were preparing to storm the beaches in 1944 there were a host of more everyday but no less threatening battles to be fought with the ills of the decade on the homefront.

Health 60 years ago had more perils than we face today.

Remember this was a time before the NHS, before the widespread use of antibiotics, and before major advances in surgery and drug treatments.

If you visited a GP you paid for the privilege and the municipal hospital had usually evolved from the old Victorian workhouse.

But times were changing and overall the health of the nation, and of people in Coventry and Warwickshire, was on the up.

Generally better sanitary conditions and a higher standard of living was paying off in terms of less infectious diseases and longer life spans.

The public health report for Coventry from 1944 reveals a city coping with the after effects of heavy bombing and, to our standards at least, rudimentary medical care, yet it was a city which remained positive.

The population hovered around 240,000. No census had been taken since 1931 so this was only an estimate, and in recent years the city had seen an exodus as the bombs rained down, countered by an influx from expansion of the war industry.

The city death rate was 9.7 per 1,000 of the population as against 10.3 the previous year and compared to the national average of 11.6.

The birth rate meanwhile was rising. For 1944 it was 24.5 per 1,000 compared with 22.7 the previous year, and 16.5 in the last prewar year.

It gives an interesting insight into how social habits and attitudes were shifting.

Even the report itself comments: "There is much material here for the sociologist."

The uncertainty of the future often meant people were more likely to throw caution to the wind and strict moral codes were beginning to unravel.

According to the report: "Venereal diseases made another blot on the war-time health record. The situation has been well in hand, however, in that the local treatment facilities have been sufficient and the anti- VD propaganda effective.

"In the latter connection the number of unaffected cases attending for examination at the clinics has again been large. It is clear that the idea of 'being on the safe side' after exposure to risk is gaining ground.

"But the main thing, after all, is real prevention by the rebuilding of moral standards."

The city even employed a special VD social worker.

Today's director of public health for Coventry, Dr Keith Williams, says: "Certainly sexual disease rates went up quite a lot and people did die of venereal disease. I think perhaps people were a bit less inhibited.

"If they thought they were going to get bombed tomorrow they were more likely to want to live for today."

The public health reports of the time were more formal than our modern- day counterparts and were written for the local council.

"This was quite a few years before the NHS," says Dr Williams. "The city council was in charge of health issues and hospitals.

"Gulson Hospital was run by the city and was a municipal hospital which had developed out of the old workhouse.

"Coventry and Warwickshire Hospital was a charitable hospital and people would pay for treatment there if they could afford it.

"GPs were independent and you paid for a consultation.

"But a parliamentary act had been passed to do with working and compensation which meant if you were in employment you had a sort of insurance which normally covered things like GP appointments. …

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