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"Health is Wealth": preventative medicine and promotion of healthy living

Health is WealthA growing interest in preventative medicine in the early 20th century saw the development of a range of campaigns and schemes to promote healthy living to the British people (particularly the working classes). The documents linked to here provide examples of some of these campaigns, the majority of which were run by voluntary organisations.

Healthy living and preventative medicine:

  • Objects of the People's League of Health, 1920. The League was formed to raise "the Standard of Health of the British Empire", by "disseminat[ing] knowledge on Health — how to obtain and preserve it", through public lectures, demonstrations and film shows. Themes covered by the lectures were to include personal hygiene, maternity, eugenics, food, alcohol, housing, physical education, tuberculosis and venereal disease.
  • First annual report of the People's League of Health, 1922. Illustrated with a statue of "science unveiling ignorance", the report sets out the objects of the League and includes "startling figures" on preventable disease, lists of League activities (including lectures, meetings, exhibitions and publications), accounts and reports. The report promotes the idea of preventative medicine with the phrase: "It is better to erect a strong fence at the top of the cliff than to maintain a working ambulance at the bottom."
  • Health Week, 1924. Circular issued by the Royal Sanitary Institute to promote the idea of a 'Health Week' (5-11 October) "to arouse that sense of personal responsibility for Health, without which all public work whether by the Government or Local Authorities, must fall far short of its aims." It provides general advice on organising the week, including suggested subjects for public lectures (e.g. 'Microbes: Our Secret Friends and Foes', 'Soap and Water', 'Clothing and Personal Hygiene').
  • Report of Health Week Committee, 1924. Summary of achievements and events during 'Health Week' ("it would appear that the week was observed with even more enthusiasm than usual").
  • Diagram showing some of the many voluntary or charitable organisations that provided healthcare advice, 1924, adapted from a memorandum by the Chief Medical Officer of the Ministry of Health and of the Board of Education.
  • Public education in health, 1926. Memorandum addressed to the Minister of Health by the Chief Medical Office of the Ministry of Health and of the Board of Education. It looks at the growth in preventative medicine, the role of health education, and the work of central government, local authorities and voluntary organisations.
  • 'Health is Wealth', 1926. Annual report issued by the Industrial Health Education Council, on their programme "to educate Industrial Workers on the Sicknesses and Diseases to which they are liable, with the view to mitigating and preventing the same."
  • 'Health is Wealth', 1926. Examples of posters for meetings organised by the Industrial Health Education Council, targeting miners and women millworkers.
  • 'Health hints to miners', 1926. Example of a leaflet that was distributed free to miners (in the year of the General Strike) by the Industrial Health Education Council, providing advice on how to prevent ill health through good working practices, care of food, healthy hobbies, etc.
  • 'Your teeth', [1927?]. Dental Board of the United Kingdom leaflet, linking tooth decay to broader health problems, including tuberculosis, diabetes and cancer.
  • 'Health in industry: a growing movement', 1927. Industrial Health Education Society leaflet, promoting its work to improve the health of the worker (and industrial efficiency).
  • 'Health and the Home: The King's physician talks to you on fitness', 1928. Article by Sir Humphry Rolleston, Regius Professor of Medicine at Cambridge and Physician to the King, published in the Daily Express. He promotes the idea of health education amongst industrial workers.
  • National 'Clean Throat' Campaign, 1929. Publicity material, with covering letter, for a campaign proposed by Arthur Corbett-Smith. He promotes an attack on diseases ranging from the common cold to tuberculosis through a campaign to keep a 'clean throat' and to prevent spitting and sneezing at people.
  • 'The new home: a handbook for tenants', 1937. Health and Cleanliness Council pamphlet, providing guidance for tenants on how to keep their property clean and healthy. It includes "homely hints" on cleaning, furniture, shopping, storage of clothing and the disposal of vermin.
  • 'Health and cleanliness: a text book for teachers', 1938. Pamphlet published by the Health and Cleanliness Council to provide an "outline for teachers who desire to impress the importance of cleanliness on their scholars and to inculcate in them cleanly habits".
  • 'Hints for the busy housewife', 1939. Pamphlet published by the Health and Cleanliness Council to provide guidelines for women on cleaning, care of food, washing, skin care, child welfare, etc.
  • 'Health and Beauty: A Book for Girls', 1939. Health and Cleanliness Council pamphlet which encourages young women to "be beautiful!" through cleanliness and good health.
  • 'Women at War…Safeguard your Health', 1942. Pamphlet published by the Communist Party of Great Britain, linking good health in women workers with the war effort ("Illness, not Hitler, made us lose all these extra weapons"). It includes advice on improving factory conditions.
  • 'How to keep well in wartime', 1943. British government pamphlet which provides advice on keeping the nation fit - "fit to hasten victory and to tackle the tasks that lie beyond", including suggestions to "be regular in your living habits", get enough sleep, go outside, keep active, eat healthily, be moderate and hygenic.


  • Investigation of Workers' Food and Suggestions as to Dietary, 1917. Government report on the feeding of munition workers, produced by the Health of Munition Workers Committee of the Ministry of Munitions. It includes information about the nutritional value of specimen meals provided by works canteens and brought in by workers, and includes a special section on the food consumed by women workers. The report links the provision of nutritious meals by the factories to good production levels.
  • Memorial to the Right Honourable Neville Chamberlain, MP, Minister of Health, 1925. Appeal from the Bread and Food Reform League for local authorities to circulate leaflets to "spread information about healthy, nourishing, economical foods, and ... finely ground whole wheat meal bread".
  • Objects of the New Health Society, 1926. The Society aimed to spread information about new scientific discoveries, and improve the provision and supply of good, uncontaminated and unadulterated food.
  • Boric compounds as food preservatives, 1926. Trades Union Congress memorandum on the preservation of food stuffs, including a discussion of the merits of chemical and physical methods of preservation, and an examination of the arguments over the banning of boric acid as a preservative in milk and other food products.
  • 'What do you know about it?', 1927. Leaflet which reproduces an article from the Ladies' Home Journal on the health benefits of eating fresh (washed) fruit and vegetables - "if you would reach the good health goal, include fresh fruits in your everyday diet".
  • 'Nutrition and Food Supplies', 1936. Labour Party pamphlet which looks at malnutrition, the links between food and health, and the financial implications of having a balanced diet.
  • 'Nutrition: The position in England to-day', 1936. Pamphlet produced by the Industrial Christian Fellowship in response to the public "uneasiness" about the "nutritional state of the unemployed and lowly paid worker". It looks at the effects of malnutrition and the financial costs of a good diet.

National fitness:

  • 'National fitness: The first steps', 1937. Pamphlet published by the National Advisory Council for Physical Training and Recreation, a body appointed by the government after the passing of the Physical Training and Recreation Act, 1937. It contains suggestions for local authorities, voluntary organisations and the general public on promoting "the way to fitness".
  • National Fitness Council survey of local needs, 1937. Memorandum looking at the need for local facilities to allow people to engage in "physical training and recreation".
  • National campaign for physical fitness, 1938. Memorandum of interview between representatives of the National Fitness Council and the Trades Union Congress. It provides an outline of the planned work of the Council and includes the statement that "it was very far from the intention of the National Council that [physical activities] should take any militaristic turn". A memorandum of a later interview is also available.
  • "Asked to leave Fitness Council", 1938. Newspaper report on the removal of Sir Edward Grigg, former Governor of Kenya, from the National Fitness Council, after he advocated that fitness training for young men should be compulsory. Lord Aberdare, Chairman of the Council, contrasted the British initiative with the "compulsory systems of the totalitarian States" (i.e. Germany and the Soviet Union).