BOOK REVIEW – Fighting Fit: The Wartime Battle for Britain’s Health by Laura Dawes

When the Second World War broke out, the British government were concerned that Britons would suffer from malnutrition, epidemics and poor mental health. Instead, thanks to the government, the pharmaceutical industry, researchers, pathologists, doctors, psychiatrists and nutritionists, the war was won, not only against the Axis powers but also against the forecast of an unhealthy nation.

This is an absolutely fascinating look at how Britain mobilised itself to keep the nation in better shape than it had ever been before. Ordinary people, like gardeners, boy scouts, telephone operators, school children, ice-cream van drivers and bakers all played their part in this extraordinary effort to provide the calories, medicines, nutrients, that were essential for the entire population to be healthy enough to work in the factories, shipyards and farms. After all, this war was not won on the battlefield alone.

As a nutritionist, it was fascinating to hear that schoolchildren and other groups were paid to collect rosehips in the field in order to make syrup to supply enough vitamin C for immune protection. Conscientious objectors were recruited to carry out complex experiments to find out what the lowest calorie and nutrient needs were should food be unable to be imported at all.

It made me wonder what might have happened if only the efforts to keep the nation healthy had continued after the war, would we be in a different situation right now with regards to the epidemic of chronic non-communicable disease? What might the health of the nation have looked like?

This book is very readable, written in an engaging style, and is recommended for anyone interested in the history of medicine and food.

Laura Dawes
Weidenfeld & Nicholson
First Edition: 2016
ISBN 10: 1474601987  ISBN 13: 9781474601986

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