By analysing both nutritional health campaigns and the role of health food advertising my PhD thesis enquires as to how the now common associations between diet and chronic disease risk factors were transmitted in visual terms, and how promotional techniques contributed to the creation of a science-based consumerism in the post-war period.This research suggests that wartime developments in food propaganda, within the context of rationing, were of great importance to the development of public health interventions into problems of overnutrition and chronic disease in the postwar period. In response to broad concerns with new understandings of diet-disease risks and anxieties about an over-abundant food supply the state, local government and food industry leaders altered how certain foodstuffs were discussed and advertised in the public domain. Health education now became a depended upon forum for the communication of new dietary threats and their relationship with the contraction of particular chronic diseases. In this thesis, I examine how both public health campaigns and educative initiatives by food manufacturers have contributed to the creation of this science-based consumerism in post-war Britain in overtly visual ways. I will argue that as health and healthy eating became important aspects of 'modern' consumerism, commercial entities and governmental bodies alike appropriated a health education message as a sales technique. That is message was itself largely visual is a central concern of this thesis.
Within this context, gender, a recurring visual theme, is used as an analytical tool in emphasising the way in which health education, appropriated food and diet as a sphere of influence. My thesis will adopt a case study approach focused on the Look After Yourself Campaign (later to be succeeded by the Look After Your Heart Campaign) and the Flora Project for Heart Disease Prevention to highlight the interaction between the state and the food inustry (and their development of specific new food products) in creating a ‘healthy consumer’. To this end, my work investigates how the visualised body of both male and female consumers/citizens interact and associate with culturally contingent notions of beauty, attractiveness and 'to-be-looked-at-ness in postwar British society.
This project ultimately seeks to investigate the role and function of visual images in nutritional education and advertising campaigns introduced at the behest of both the state and private industry. Whilst the history of ‘private’ and corporate health care initiatives have been overshadowed in a British situation due to the overwhelming focus on the NHS such an examination facilitates an evaluation of the authority of science within modern society. By focusing on the diet-disease thesis in the second half of the twentieth century in a British context, this dissertation aims to link contemporary approaches to advertising and the dissemination of health advice to their contemporary and shifting cultural context. A rigorous assessment of how particular images and language were used in health campaigns and advertising will emphasise the development of self-care practices and risk avoidance tactics within the new public health of the post-war period. Consequently this work represents a necessary scholarly enquiry into the interface between diet, chronic disease, consumerism, gender, industry, health education and visual culture in Britain.
Wellcome Trust Doctoral Studentship