A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46

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Every plan to provide the population with a healthy diet depends not only on the provision of the appropriate foodstuffs, but also on the active co-operation of the cooks of the population. An important factor on which the use of available food stuffs depends is the knowledge of food values possessed by those who keep house.

No information existed about such a knowledge of food values and the Ministry of Food asked the Wartime Social Survey to collect information on this subject.

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Food Values

In April 1942 and again in February 1943 just over 2000 people were asked “which foods are in your opinion most necessary for health and strength?”

The importance which is attached to any of these foods is shown to be dependent to a certain extent on the occupation of the informant.

Foods mentioned in order of importance by occupation groups: -

Heavy Workers Clerical Managerial & Professional Housewives
Meat and Bacon 1 3 3 4
Vegetables 3 1 1 2
Milk 4 2 2 1
Fats 5 6 5 3
Bread 7 7 11 7
Eggs 2 7 4 3
Fruit 8 5 6 6
Cheese 6 9 7 11
Cereal 11 10 8 9
Sugar 10 8 10 10
Fish 9 11 9 8
Cannot mention any particular food 6% 9% 6% 8%

Heavy workers consider meat the most important food for their health, the second in importance are eggs - another protein food. Vegetables come third, milk fourth and fats fifth.

Housewives have a different choice. Milk is the most important food to them, then vegetables; fats are third and meat only fourth. In this choice housewives seem very much influenced by what they consider the important food for their children for whom milk is considered the most important food, vegetables and fruit taking the next place.

Clerical, managerial and professional workers give vegetables as first in importance and milk the second; meat and bacon third and eggs fourth.

Fruit takes the eighth place with heavy workers. In other occupational categories it comes fifth and sixth.

In another investigation 2970 men and women industrial workers were asked whether they considered the food they got was enough to keep them fit. About half of the men and one third of the women thought they could not really keep fit on the food they got. Asked what kind of food was most lacking, the men answered “meat” with the great frequency. After meat, eggs, fats and butter and sugar were mentioned with about an equal: frequency. Far fewer women mentioned meat as the cause of being fed inadequately: milk, fats and butter, eggs and meat being mentioned equally often as cause for their being underfed.

There are considerable economic group differences in the extent of knowledge on food values. If the informants are divided into four income groups and the answers as to what foods are most important for health are analysed separately for these groups, it is found first that the wealthiest group mentions many more foods (3.6 on an average) than the poorest (2 on an average). The differences are especially striking in the case of fruit which is mentioned by twice as big a percentage in the highest income group as in the poorest. Milk as an important food for health is mentioned by 20% less in the lowest income group than in the wealthiest. There is also a difference for vegetables though it is not so large.

In order to see what people meant when they said certain foods were important for their health, two more questions were asked -

(1) “Could you name the foods which are valuable for preserving body tissues in a healthy condition and building up resistance against infection and disease?"

(2) “Which foods do you consider most important for preventing such ailments?"

coughs, colds, sore throats and deficiency diseases such as anaemia, rickets, night blindness and bad teeth?”

The most striking result was that about half the people could not give an answer to these questions.

Does not know which are best for preventing:-

Can’t name any protective foods Coughs, Colds Rickets Night blindness Bad Teeth Anaemia
% % % % % %
52 49 66 61 62 50
Sample 2671

The protective foods mentioned with the greatest frequency are fats, milk, vegetables, fruit. Meat is mentioned much less often than these four foods. This fact does indicate that the people who are conscious of food values in a scientific sense do not consider meat as important as does the general population.

As the main preventive foods against coughs and colds, fats and milk are mentioned; against anaemia, milk, vegetables, meat, liver; against rickets, milk, and fats; against bad teeth, milk and fruit; against night blindness carrots are mentioned. On the whole, the answers are fairly correct, with the exception of fruit as a preventive of bad teeth. People who mentioned fruit seemed to have in mind the idea that to eat an apple helps to keep the teeth clean just as much as brushing them - an idea for which certain pre-war advertising campaigns may have been responsible.

In conclusion it may be said that a large number of people have no scientific knowledge of dietetic food values. They consider the foods which make up their traditional diet as those which are good for them. In the case of working men the outstanding constituent is meat; meat to them is therefore the food with the greatest food value. Men and women in sedentary occupations do not cat so much meat as heavy workers and do not consider meat has the greatest nutritive value. As these groups consume more milk, vegetables and fruit, they attach more importance to these foods.

Less than half of the population think in terms of food values in the scientific sense. Those who do, have quite a good notion though not a very thorough one of what modern biochemistry considers important food from a nutritive point of view.

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