Highlights on Britain's campaign to improve the physique of the nation,BRIAN MEREDITHOctober151938
Highlights on Britain's campaign to improve the physique of the nation
GREAT BRITAIN is undergoing a physical overhaul. She is like a middle-aged woman who has become anxious over her own fatness and her children’s thinness. She is discovering that she is eating the wrong foods and is not taking enough exercise, and that the health of her children has been sadly neglected.
Self-examination has begun through the National Fitness Campaign, which has revealed uncomfortable facts about the state of public health; and the situation is of particular interest to Canadians. We are a comparatively healthy lot, or so we consider ourselves; but we have a lot to learn if our public health is to be properly preserved.
The British Isles could be considered by Canada as a variety of gigantic social guinea pig. It contracts every political disease, and is subject to every known experimental remedy. Sooner or later Canada will suffer from equally advanced stages of the same diseases —unless we begin sooner to profit by their experiments and their experience; unless we do, deliberately and at once, what they have been forced to do. Consequently, we should study this present problem.
The National Fitness Campaign began roughly last autumn with the Lord Mayor’s Show. A company of fullbosomed young women and square-shouldered young men marched in the procession, with “Fitness Wins” stitched across their sweaters; and appropriately enough a float close behind announced. “British Beef Builds Britain.” The council organizing the campaign was made up of representatives of the national organizations interested in sport and recreation. Popular interest in physical fitness, in outdoor recreation and in games had steadily increased; and the time had come, it was claimed, when this interest should be co-ordinated and supported by the Government. There are many national health and youth movements in the United Kingdom, such as the League of Health and Beauty, and the experience of such organizations could be utilized. All such activity could be given impetus, and the ordinary citizen given an incentive to better his physique by a
hopelessness and inertia of an earlier age remain. Racially, it will take two or three generations to raise average weight, height, and general levels of public health to what they ought to be. Physical comparisons with other and presumably less privileged states today, lead to uncomfortable conclusions. The average Englishman stands five feet 7)i inches and weighs 155 pounds. He is accused, moreover, of being “C-S ” a thirdrater or worse, as a physical specimen. Low wage scales, x>r living conditions, undemouris nent and malnutrition, ignorance nd Eng-
central authority; and that is what the National Fitness Council ungç|K6ok to do. It is now organizing a national physical training college, subsidizing certain athletic activities, ai}d aiding in the provision of new recreational facilities throughout the country. It has something like ten million dollars to work with.
Low Physical Standard
THE National Fitness Campaign in Great Britain, though its promoters do not like to admit it, has been undertaken largely because of anxiety over national defense. It has brought about an assessment of the nation's physical resources, as her supplies of fœd and armaments have been assessed; and, as in the other directions, the revelations have been disconcerting. The aim ostensibly was to encourage physical recreation, games and a healthy outdoor life; but the hopelessness of achieving good in such conventional ways was quickly pointed out. Healthy citizens are not made in the gymnasium or clinic, but in the home. National fitness depends u]xm proper feeding and living conditions, upon adequate wage scales.
Industrialism with a lingering Victorian background is not a pretty spectacle, and among the forty-four millions making up the population of Great Britain, much of the
lish cooking, all have contributed to this deterioration.
There are many clues to show what the actual extent of unfitness must be. Army recruiting indicates low standards of fitness, for large numbers fail to pass muster. Housing surveys have revealed shocking conditions of health in great congested areas, and vast discrepancies in physique and susceptibility to disease between classes and districts. School inspections show that five out of seven children in elementary schools require dental treatment; about seventeen per cent require medical treatment; and about nine per cent are unclean or verminous.
But children need little medical care if they get enough good food. The British Medical Association in 1933 established a hypothetical minimum meal. It was a bare sufficiency. Recently 250 guests of the Children’s Minimum Council were served with one of these meals. They had a choice of tripe and onions with potatoes, minced meat and rice with swedes, or fried cod and potatoes. As dessert: a choice of stewed figs and custard, or steamed plum duff. Despite science, it was a stoically British selection. An unemployed man’s wife sat beside Lord Horder and told the guests: “Some of you may not have found this very filling, but it is a real treat to me.” The cost was ten cents per person.
The weekly minimums established by the B. M. A. in 1933 were $1.18 for a woman and $1.40 for a man. That would allow married couples seventeen and twenty cents each day for food. Scientifically spent, this should theoretically purchase enough to keep them alive and even relatively satisfied; but critical economists claim it inadequate for positive health. They set $2.50 as a minimum for full nourishment, which is more than half the population can afford to spend on food under the present wage scales.
A fifth of the population can afford to spend $2 per person per week on food; another fifth can only afford $1.50; and a tenth can only afford $1. One quarter of the nation’s children are embraced in the final tenth.
THE Physical Fitness complex in Great Britain developed uncomfortably close to rearmament. It seemed to critics that the Government was only anxious about public health and the availability of sufficient food under threat of war. Ä good cause was sponsored for the wrong Continued on page 46
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reason; and it has been tacitly opposed. Local authorities would prefer to have treated first the roots and causes of public unhealth — malnutrition, poverty and slums. Organized recreation and physical training, it was claimed, were superfluous for the underfed.
One critic said: “The Government have built up wheat supplies against a national emergency of war. Why cannot we build up the foodstuffs of the people against the national emergency of malnutrition, which is with us all the time and requires action as much as any threat of war?”
The President of the Royal Institute of British Architects has observed dryly: “Sport is no longer if it ever was -the British monopoly that Britons used to consider it . . . The national stockbreeders who set the fashions in state-aid fitness are apt to dream of the world as a large gymnasium in which all but flesh, bone and muscle would die . . . Health and sport need appropriate buildings, planning . . Our towns could be better penetrable by air and sunlight, our workshops cleaner, our supplies of electricity and water less capricious, and our food better preserved from contamination.”
But opposition in Great Britain to the National Fitness Movement is not only because it is apparently ill-directed. It comes from an uncomfortable resemblance to Fascist methods. It suggests concessions of personal liberty that the British public has fought for centuries to achieve and preserve. It seems to be an Anglo-Saxon counterpart to Hitler’s "Strength through Joy” idea, and to the totalitarian health and youth movements on the Continent. It is seen as a toying with a variety of compulsory national service, for Great Britain is now one of the few countries whose citizens are not conscripted for peace-time training; and the threat of it walks daily abroad disguised as physical training or even as national registration.
The authorities warmly disclaim any desire to coerce, but every now and then someone lets the cat out of the bag by plumping straight for peace-time conscription. Dr. Cyril Norwood, president of St. John’s College, Oxford, in addressing a group of schoolmasters studying methods of physical training under the present campaign, said that the voluntary system of physical training had one great weakness. Only the fit w’ere going to take advantage of it ; the unfit would find an easy means of evading it.
There is no telling, think the pessimists, where national fitness schemes might end. The citizens of Germany, Italy and Russia can be made to run into the parks and jump through hoops if necessary, and they would probably do so with the wildest patriotic enthusiasm. But in Great Britain, though there are many who would dearly love to see some public discipline imposed, there is a near riot w’hen individual liberties are threatened.
’ I 'HE Fitness Campaign’s greatest and most intelligent innovation has been the educational publicity given the health services. For the first time, a Government undertook to boost and advertise something it did for nothing. Millions of leaflets and posters advertised the clinics, medical services, sports facilities, and machinery existing to keep the common citizen in good health.
“Use Your Health Services.” was emphasized throughout the poorer districts of the cities. In simple direct language, attractively and symbolically illustrated, the injunction was brought before the public in a hundred places at small cost to the authorities; and the idea of fitness was cooperatively boosted by independent advertisers.
This was a call to millions to make full use of what was freely theirs. Having
established public welfare facilities, the authorities have sensibly taken the National Fitness Campaign as an excuse to urge the public to use them. Oddly enough, it is by no means an easy task. People are hard to move.
Attention has thus been focused on Great Britain’s remarkable health services and their influence on public health. Almost half the pregnant women of the country attend ante-natal clinics, and almost one quarter are confined in hospitals. The services of the general practitioner are now available to nineteen million wage-earners through a state service, and by voluntary co-operative arrangements to another large section of the community. Housing, old-age pensions and unemployment insurance have had a profoundly beneficial effect upon public health.
However, in the opinion of the British Medical Association. “There is no room for complacency. The nutritional stan-
dards of considerable numbers of our people are too low; such a valuable food as milk is by no means universally safe; facilities for recreation are commonly inadequate; in many parts of the country overcrowding is rife; and preventable infectious disease still occurs all too frequently.” The B. M. A. makes its criticisms constructive by advocating a General Medical Service for the nation which would greatly extend and co-ordinate existing services, which it complains are bewildering in their complexity, and even competitive. Their proposals and criticisms make another story, and might be interpreted as a democratic compromise toward the socialization of medicine.
But it all goes to show that Great Britain’s decision to be physically fit has resulted in a lot of soul searching as well as fact finding, which is of direct interest to Canadian readers familiar with problems of community ill-health, its roots and remedies.
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