Food Health and Income: The Problem


The rapid advance in the science of nutrition in recent years  has shown that the influence of diet on health and physique is profound. It has been proved that much of   the   ill-health which afflicts human populations can be attributed directly to deficiencies in diet, and there is a certain amount of evidence indicating that increased susceptibility to certain infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis and other pulmonary and intestinal disorders in young children, may also arise from a faulty diet.

These results of research are now to some extent being applied. Already efforts to improve nutrition are bearing fruit in a reduction of the grosser forms of deficiency diseases such as rickets, and in decreased infant mortality.

Public interest has been aroused in this “newer knowledge of nutrition,” as it has been called. The centre of interest is passing from the research laboratory to the application in everyday life of the results of the researches. Consequently there is now a good deal of discussion on the extent to which malnutrition due to faulty diet is prevalent, on the relative importance of ignorance and of poverty as the cause of faulty diets, and on the means which should be taken to ensure that every member of the community may have a diet adequate for perfect health.


The importance of the subject has been increased by the measures taken to relieve the depression in agriculture which accompanied the world-wide economic depression of the last five years. Some of these measures were designed to raise wholesale prices of foodstuffs to a level remunerative to the producer by limiting the amounts marketed. Measures adopted in the United Kingdom were mild com­pared with those adopted in some Continental countries, where the price of certain foodstuffs is being maintained at over twice the world price. Further, in this country, the measures adopted were not based to any considerable extent on restriction. Agriculture was largely assisted by subsidies which do not raise prices. Everyone is agreed that, while it is economically desirable to make agriculture prosperous, it is equally desirable to ensure that the food supply of the nation is sufficient for health, and is available at a price within the reach of the poorest.

The necessity for reconciling the interests of agriculture and public health has raised questions of the utmost importance on Government measures affecting the food supply. The issues may be debated but they cannot be decided except in the light of the fullest possible information on the amount of food required to maintain the health of the community, the extent of malnutrition due to under­consumption, and the extent to which under-consumption is due to poverty.

The importance of obtaining this information has been recognised. So soon as the measures designed to relieve the agricultural crisis were put into force, the Minister of Agriculture for England and Wales and the Ministers concerned with Agriculture for Scotland and Northern Ireland set up the Market Supply Committee. One of its main functions has been to bring together information on the food position of the country, especially on total requirements in relation to market supply and the effect of changes in price on consumption. The Ministers responsible for health, who are consequently concerned with the effect of the national dietary on public health, appointed the Advisory Committee on Nutrition ” to enquire into the facts, quantitative and qualitative, in relation to the diet of the people and to report as to any changes therein which appear desirable in the light of modern advances in the knowledge of nutrition.”


In 1935 the Rowett Research Institute was asked by one of the main branches of the food industry for certain information on food con­sumption. The information asked for could not be given without a special enquiry into the food habits of the country. It was thought that the results of such an enquiry would be of interest also to the agricultural Marketing Boards. The Boards agreed to co-operate, and Lord Linlithgow, then Chairman of the Market Supply Committee, approved of arrangements whereby data accumulated by his Committee should be made available and the staff of the Com­mittee should give assistance in the analysis of the data and the framing of statistical estimates.

After the results of the special enquiry had been communicated to the Marketing Boards and Trade organisations concerned, it was decided that, in view of the importance of the subject, an attempt should be made to combine these results, with previously collected information, to give some idea of the diets and of the standards of health attained in different sections of the community. The results of this attempt are recorded in the following pages.