Food Health and Income: summary and conclusion

The food position of the country has been investigated to show the average consumption of the main foodstuffs at different income levels. The standard of food requirements and the standard of health adopted are not the present average but the optimum, i.e., the physiological standard, which, though ideal, is attainable in practice with a national food supply sufficient to provide a diet adequate for health for any member of the community. The main findings may be summarized as follows :—

  1. Of an estimated national income of £3,750 millions, about £1,075 millions are spent on food.  This is equivalent to 9s. per head per week.
  2. The consumption of bread and potatoes is practically uniform throughout the different income level groups.  Consumption of milk, eggs, fruit, vegetables, meat and fish rises with income. Thus, in the poorest group the average consumption of milk, including tinned milk, is equivalent to 1.8 pints per head per week; in the wealthiest group 5.5 pints. The poorest group consume 1.5 eggs per head per week;  the wealthiest 4.5. The poorest spend 2.4d. on fruit; the wealthiest 1s. 8d.
  3. An examination  of the composition  of the  diets  of the different groups  shows  that the  degree  of  adequacy for health increases as income rises.   The average diet of the poorest group, comprising 4 1/2 million people, is, by the standard adopted, deficient in every constituent examined.    The second group, comprising 9 million people, is adequate in protein, fat and carbohydrates, but deficient in all the vitamins and minerals considered.    The third group, comprising another 9 million, is deficient in several of the important vitamins and minerals. Complete adequacy is almost reached in group IV, and in the still wealthier groups the diet has a surplus of all constituents considered.
  4. A review of the state of health of the people of the different groups suggests that, as income increases, disease and death-rate decrease, children grow more quickly, adult stature is greater and general health and physique improve.
  5. The results of tests on children show that improvement of the diet in the lower groups is accompanied by improvement in health and increased rate of growth, which approximates to that of children in the higher income groups.
  6. To make the diet of the poorer groups the same as that of the first group whose diet is adequate for full health, i.e., group IV, would involve increases in consumption of a number of the more expensive foodstuffs, viz., milk, eggs, butter, fruit, vegetables and meat, varying from 12 to 25 per cent.

If these findings be accepted as sufficiently accurate to form a working hypothesis, they raise important economic and political problems. Consideration of these is outwith the scope of the investigation. It may be pointed out here, however, that one of the main difficulties in dealing with these problems is that they are not within the sphere of any single Department of State. This new knowledge of nutrition, which shows that there can be an enormous improvement in the health and physique of the nation, coming at the same time as the greatly increased powers of producing food, has created an entirely new situation which demands economic statesmanship. The prominence given to this new social problem at the last Assembly of the League of Nations shows that it is occupying the attention of all civilized countries. It is gratifying that the lead in this movement was taken by the British Empire.