Significant improvements were seen in health, including in diabetes and cardiovascular disease, during war time rationing in some countries including in Britain and Denmark. This page will over time bring together relevant data hopefully in time becoming a useful information resource.
Time Rationing – Associated Health Improvements
Nutrition in War and Peace by Frank
“What have been the results of the wartime policy respecting food and nutrition in the United Kingdom? I give them to you in the words of Sir Wilson Jameson, Chief Medical Officer of the Ministry of Health, and of Dr. H.E. Magee, Deputy Senior Medical Officer of Food, Dietetics, and Nutrition. Here is the story as told to the British people over the radio by Sir Wilson Jameson in December, 1944:.
After five years of war we still have a good story to tell. The most sensitive index of a nation’s general health is probably the proportion of infants dying in the first year of life. In the last war it rose steadily. During the last three years it has declined steadily and last year, was the lowest ever recorded. The most risky time for a baby is its first month of life. Well, we’ve got a new low record there; and as for the tragedy of babies born dead (stillborn as we say) I can tell you that the chance of this happening is only three-fourths of what it was five years ago. The death rates for children up to ten years of age were last year the lowest on record, as was also the proportion of mothers dying as a result of their confinements. As the war has gone on, the vital statistics for mothers and children have continued to improve and in the fifth year they’re the best we ever had. This can’t be just an accident. All that’s been done to safeguard mothers and children must have had some effect—such things as the national milk scheme, vitamin supplements for mothers and children, the great extension of schemes for school meals and milk in schools. There are doubtless other factors—full employment and higher purchasing power in many families, especially in the old depressed areas; as well as the careful planning from a nutritional point of view of the restricted amount of food available for the nation.
The following is taken from a lecture by Dr. Magee:
The war-time food policy was the first large-scale application of the science of nutrition to the population of the United Kingdom. … A diet more than ever before in conformity with physiological requirements became available to everyone, irrespective of income.
The other environmental factors which might influence the public health had, on the whole, deteriorated under the stress of war. The public health, so far from deteriorating, was maintained and even in many respects improved. The rates of infantile, neonatal, and maternal mortality and the stillbirth rate reached the lowest levels ever. The incidence of anemia declined, the growth-rate and the condition of the teeth of school children were improved, and the general state of nutrition of the population as a whole was up to or above prewar standards. We are therefore entitled to conclude that the new knowledge of nutrition can be applied to communities with the expectation that concrete benefit to their state of well-being will result.
In view of these results it is no wonder that Sir Wilson Jameson has come to the conclusion that “Nutrition is the very essence and basis of national health.”
Denmark - WW1 - (Studies in Deficiency Disease Sir Robert McCarrison 1921)
Abstract from Introduction (Link)
“In this connection reference may be made to the experiences of the Danes during the late war, as narrated by Hindhede.1 When, as was the lot of other countries, the food-supply of Denmark had to be conserved, and rationing was strict, it was considered that to feed cattle and swine with cereals and potatoes that might be used for human consumption was wasteful, since it meant a loss of approximately 80 per cent, in the nutritional value of the foods as compared with the yield in the flesh of animals.. For this reason the potatoes and grain were reserved for the use of the people, and the stock of cattle and Swine was reduced. The cereals and potatoes were taken “from the distillers, so that they could not make brandy, and one-half of the cereals from the brewers, so that the beer output was reduced one-half.” The people received a sufficiency of potatoes, whole rye bread—containing wheat bran and 24 per cent, of barley-meal —barley porridge, grains, milk, abundance of green vegetables, and some, butter. In consequence of this enforced alteration in the dietetic habits of the Danish people, the death-rate dropped as much as 34 per cent, being as -low as io–4 per cent, when the regime had been in force for one year. Hindhede, therefore, concludes that “the principal cause of death lies in food and drink” ; and few will be disposed to doubt the justice of his contention in the face of an experiment so unequivocal.”
1 Jour. Am. Med. Assoc., 1920 (Feb. 7), LXXIV, No. 6, p. 381.
Feeding the People in War Time
A book by Sir John Orr
A truly thought provoking book, which highlight the recognition of the importance of nutrition to both armies and civilian populations in war. The arguments are no less applicable to national economies and functional societies – the difference are arguably only of time and scale – clearly a happy health motivated population is a critical factor in a Nation’s long term economic and related wider stability so influence.
“Health depends upon food, and food is probably the most vulnerable part of the whole front. Elaborate preparations have been made on both sides to maintain the food supply. It is not merely a question of preventing starvation. A nation may collapse long before it is starving. What is to be feared in war-time is not so much an actual shortage of food as a deterioration of the diet to a level at which the health and physical fitness of the population cannot be maintained. The experiences of the War of 1914-18 and also all we have learned since then about the effect of food on health show that the resistance of the Home Front depends very largely upon the nature of the national diet.”
“The position gradually became worse. By 1918 the civilian ration, even that supplied to munition workers, provided less than two thirds of the pre-War consumption, reckoned in terms of calories. Accompanying the decrease in the amount, there was a deterioration in quality. There was a shortage of fat-soluble vitamins. The daily con-sumption of fats (butter, margarine and lard) fell from the pre-War level of 58gm. per head per day, to 16 gm. in 1917-18. On such a poor diet, men were unable to do a full day’s work, and the output of the factories fell. The late Professor Starling, who reported on conditions in Germany at the end of that War, said that the people were physically and mentally enfeebled. They were in a condition of dull depression and lassitude; they had no feeling of national honour; they had completely lost the will to victory. Even at this stage, a great victory in the field might have revived the national courage and enabled them to carry on; but a series of defeats in the field, inflicted on a people enfeebled by poor diet, brought about complete collapse.”
To meet the new situation we may set ourselves to keep the national diet as near as possible to what it was in peace-time by growing and importing foods in the same proportion as we did before the War and by rationing one food after another as a shortage occurs. We may try to control the rise in cost by fixing maximum and minimum prices. But if we merely adopt defensive measures, designed to try to keep the food position as near as possible to what it was in peace-time, there may be a gradual deterioration in the national diet with accompanying deterioration in health and physical efficiency. Food scarcity and high prices will bring hardships to all, but the poor will suffer most and the number that will be poor will increase. The war policy should be based on the physiological needs of the population. The health aspect is even more important in war than in peace. We are a beleaguered nation, and in our plans for food the over-riding objective, indeed the only objective worth considering, is to provide a national diet which will maintain everybody in health. Trade considerations and manyof our food likes and dislikes will have to go by the board. It would be a national crime if we spent money and effort providing one part of the population with non-essential foods before we had made sure that every family in the country had a sufficient supply of the common foods to provide a diet adequate for health.”
Full Free PDF courtesy of the FAO (down-load from the FOA may be better quality 5mb – file size was reduced to display here) (Link)
Food and The People - Target for Tomorrow Sir John Boyd Orr (1943) Editorial Board - Sir William Beveridge and Julian Huxley
Full Free PDF courtesy of the FAO (down-load from the FAO may be better quality – 22mb – file size was reduced to display here) (Link)
“FOOD AND THE PEOPLE
President Roosevelt, in a message to the World Food Conference 1943
“Food lends itself to planning for a definite agreed objective. The Atlantic Charter, which has been signed by all the United Nations, promises freedom from want to all men in all lands. Food is the first want or need of all men. People might interpret “need for food” differently, but President Roosevelt, in a message to the World Food Conference opened on May 18th, 1943, has defined “need for food”. This message to a conference which will turn out to be one of the most important conferences in history says “We know that in the world for which we are fighting and working the four freedoms must be won for all men. We know, too, that each freedom is dependent upon the others, that freedom from fear, for example, cannot be secured without freedom from want. If we are to succeed, each nation individually, and all nations collectively, must undertake these responsibilities: they must take all necessary steps to develop world food production so that it will be adequate to meet the essential nutritional needs of the world population. And they must see to it that no hindrances, whether of international trade, of transport, or of internal distribution be allowed to prevent any nation or group of citizens within a nation from obtaining the food necessary for health. Society must meet in full its obligation to make available to all its members-at least the minimum adequate nutrition. The problems with which this conference will concern itself are the most fundamental of all human problems, for without food and clothing life itself is impossible.”
Freedom from want of food, therefore, must mean making available for every citizen in every country sufficient of the right kind of food for health. If we are planning food for the people, no lower standard could be accepted.” . . .
The setting up of the needs of the people as the objective in planning for food will decide the course of post-war planning; it will decide the fundamental principle of all international planning. Planning should have for its objective “the fuller life—the just and true inheritance of the common man”.
As we shall try to show later, if the nations, as they must and as they undoubtedly will, reach agreement on a world food policy based on human needs and proceed to carry it into effect on a world scale, they will take the first step in initiating a movement which will bring about a great advance in human well-being and an expanding world economy that will bring prosperity to agriculture, industry and world trade.
Further, in carrying out the policy, the nations will develop the spirit of the “good neighbour” in working together for a common world cause, and they will evolve a technique of international co-operation which can be used for the solution of all other world problems.”
Abstract Conclusion – an optimistic post war left center outlook. (food clearly does factor in behaviour and mental capacity – a thought provoking arguably prescient but unfulfilled viewpoint on the importance and potential of nutrition to factor in human destiny from some respected thinkers in 1943 – how that could have been practically achieved is another matter)
“The fabric of human society is in liquefaction. From the old material something new will evolve. The decision of governments to direct their resources towards the provision of adequate nourishment for all mankind will set the course of evolution moving in the right direction. The making of this decision will in itself raise governments to a higher spiritual level. In carrying the recommendations into effect, the atmosphere of international politics will change from one of political diplomacy, which so often meant gaining an advantage for one nation at the expense of the others, to one of co-operation on schemes designed for the benefit of all. International co-operation in these schemes will accelerate the march of mankind towards the higher civilisation which science has made possible.”
Food and The People - Target for Tomorrow Sir John Boyd Orr (1943) Editorial Board - Sir William Beveridge and Julian Huxley
Cleave discusses the striking drops in diabetes mortality rates in his book ‘The Saccherine Disease’