DP121 | The Importance of Social Intervention in Britain's Mortality Decline c. 1850-1914: A Reinterpretation

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01/07/1986

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Abstract

The current orthodox interpretation of the causes of mortality decline in Britain during the 19th and early 20th centuries is derived from the primary research work of Professor T. McKeown and his associates. This interpretation emphasizes the role of increases in per capita nutritional consumption. This paper questions the coherence of the McKeown interpretation through a critical re-examination of the supporting evidence and arguments presented by McKeown et al. An alternative interpretation is then offered to account for the variations in mortality experienced between 1850 and 1914. This interpretation places emphasis on the importance of preventive public health measures and the significance of local authorities' responses to the challenge of urban congestion. The paper concludes with the suggestion that research should be encouraged into the relationship between such local initiatives and the pattern of local health in this period.