3 Preserving health
Surrounded by the ever-present threat of ill health, not surprisingly, people expended a good deal of time and energy on trying to stay well. The late nineteenth century saw a new emphasis on promoting health, which was defined as ‘a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’ (quoted in Riley, 1997, p. 199). Health was not simply a desirable end in itself. The pursuit of health was portrayed as a moral duty: parents had a responsibility to protect both the health of their children and their own health, so that they could support their families. Health also became a political concern: the future strength of the nation was seen to rest on the good health of children – the future generations of soldiers and workers. At the beginning of the twentieth century, popular beliefs about the best means of preserving health were little different from those prescribed two thousand years earlier in classical Greece – good diet, fresh air, exercise and cleanliness. Such a lifestyle would keep the body in the best possible condition to fight off germs and diseases.