A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46

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An Autumn Health Campaign was conducted by the Ministry of Health during the autumn and winter of 1941/2 to encourage the taking of precautions against illness; it was aimed at securing the co-operation of the public in reducing the spread of diseases caused by droplet infection, especially influenza and the common cold, as well as diphtheria, measles, whooping cough, cerebro-spinal fever and tuberculosis.

The Wartime Social Survey was asked by the Ministry of Health the following summer to assess the effect of the health publicity which had been operating through various media since the previous autumn; and in addition to obtain some general information on the health conditions and habits of the civilian population, and some specific information on the use of handkerchiefs to prevent the spread of infection when coughing or sneezing: this had been the central message of the publicity.

This report of the inquiry is in a sense an introduction only. It is a first attempt to examine statistically the public mind in connection with health problems, so it is by no means complete. It is hoped that there may be subsequent opportunities for further studies to fill in the many obvious gaps.

The inquiry was made by thirty investigators of the Survey staff from July 21st to August 15th and was conducted simultaneously with the inquiry on Diphtheria Immunisation, also carried out for the Ministry of Health.

The survey covered districts in all parts of England and in South Wales. Towns in which investigations were made were classified into three regional groups as follows:- (1) Northern England: Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Leeds, Skipton, Salford, Lancaster, Preston and Congleton. (2) Midlands and South Wales: Rugby, Nottingham, Birmingham, Stoke, Hanley and Hereford, Cardiff, Swansea and Abertillery. (3) Southern England: Peterborough, Norwich, Chatham, Tunbridge Wells, Reading, Southampton, Bristol, Exeter, Hailsham, Alton, Lyndhurst, and in the London area, the boroughs of Bermondsey, Kensington, Stepney, Walthamstow, Wembley and Wimbledon.

Investigators were instructed to select the sample of people whom they interviewed by an entirely random method. Through the courtesy of the Ministry of Food, investigators were given access to the Food Office files of ration-book Reference Leaves in the localities where they were investigating. From the appropriate file each investigator was instructed to select her allocated number of interviewees in random order, to make a careful note of each name and address so found, and to interview that person and nobody else. In this way a random sample of the population in each district was obtained.

In all, 1795 interviews were made, and the distribution of the sample is as follows:

Northern England Midlands and South Wales Southern England Men Women A and B Class C and D Class Up to 29 yrs. 30 to 49 yrs. 50 yrs. And over Urban Rural Indoor Outdoor
607 442 746 629 1164 347 1428 347 776 660 1557 233 1525 267
1795 1793 1775 1783 1790 1792

Totals do not always agree, because all classifications were not entered on every questionnaire.

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