1930s Fascism Spawned Public Health Initiatives

P> On the dietary front, efforts were not always simply for human health benefits, but also for economic health benefits. White bread was bad because it was deemed a "French revolutionary invention" and white flour because it was chemically treated. However, white bread also cost more to bake. Eating less bleached flour, meat, sugar and fat was not only healthy, but also economically sound.

The Nazi war against tobacco took many forms. Tobacco advertising was restricted and regulations were imposed to limit smoking by women and children. Basic science initiatives were also launched.

"The startling truth is that it was actually in Nazi Germany that the link was originally established (between cigarettes and lung cancer)," writes Proctor. "German tobacco epidemiology was, in fact, for a time, the most advanced in the world, as were many other aspects of the anti tobacco effort."

Proctor believes that the recognition of the dangers of tobacco was fostered by a political climate stressing the virtues of racial hygiene and bodily purity. In racial hygiene journals, smoking was associated with rebellion, jazz and swing dancing, degenerate blacks, Jews and Gypsies. Anti-smoking posters used inflammatory and insulting images of Africans, Jews and Indians.

Detection, prevention and treatment of cancer were important in Nazi medicine and an effort to gain good statistical control of a cancer registry was an early goal. However, because one in eight German physicians was Jewish, the regulations prohibiting Jewish doctors from treating anyone other than Jews severely disrupted the cancer registry and similar restrictions in universities strongly affected research.

The Penn State historian shows that public health initiatives were launched in the name of national socialism and that Nazi ideals informed the practice and popularization of science, guiding it, motivating it and reorienting it in ways we are only begi

Contact: A'ndrea Elyse Messer
Penn State

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