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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 2, No. 9. June 7, 1939

Food and Health — Malnutrition in N.Z. — Special Issue

Food and Health

Malnutrition in N.Z.

Special Issue

"But why write about the food problem in England?" Miss A. E. Lorimer, M.Sc., A.I.C., asked "Salient" when we called at her laboratory to obtain information on Food Values. "The position in New Zealand is so very serious, and there is a possibility that a few people may endeavor to do something about it if you demonstrate an evil existing all around them. New Zealanders feel merely a vague pity if they hear that people are starving thousands of miles away; if they knew the extent of malnutrition in New Zealand to-day they would be roused to action."

Miss Lorimer, an M.Sc. of Canterbury College, is in charge of the Laboratory of the City Engineer's Department at Wellington. She has made a wide, painstaking, and scientific study of the nutrition problem in New Zealand, and has written widely on the subject in New Zealand papers and periodicals. We take pleasure in presenting to our readers the following article by Miss Lorimer, written specially for "Salient," hoping they will realize its extreme importance.

Grade C3.

New Zealand is alleged to be a country flowing with milk and honey, on which the sun shines in perpetuum, and in which the whole community are All Black footballers, whose toughness is the envy of the whole world.

Yet when we look around at the million and three quarter inhabitants of New Zealand, we find that we are far from being a healthy, [unclear: write] people. We received a bit of a shock when the health of the [unclear: men] who were being enlisted for the Great War was found to be such that the, majority of them were listed as C3. That was twenty-five years ago. Is the health of New Zealanders any better now than It was then?

Official figures are informative on this point.

If the report of the Director- General of Health for the year ending March 31st, 1938, is examined, some rather astonishing figures are revealed.

For instance, of the 100,000 children examined, 37 per cent, had notifiable defects.

The figures for goitre, dental caries and enlarged tonsils are perhaps the most significant, as these three diseases are the direct result of wrong feeding.

Goitre Teeth perfect Enlarged tonsils
% % %
Kindergarten 3.5 33.1 22.1
Primary 15.1 5.0 15.2
Secondary 20.5 2.5 5.8
Entering teaching prof 13.2 - 7.0

What would a similar survey of the adult population [unclear: result]?

We know that one person in every thirty-two in New Zealand in a public hospital every year and this figure does not include those in private or maternity homes.

Can we say that we are in any way a healthy nation? Official figures say nothing about the amount of digestive disturbances, headaches, goitre, flat chests, neuritis, neuralgia, sciatica and rheumatism with which our population is riddled. How many adults can honestly say that they never have an ache or a pain of any description? How many men and women have to take aspirin to help them through the day? The figures for the total consumption of aspirin and phenacetin in New Zealand would surely be informative if they wore available.

No Aches.

Yet a healthy adult should not have aches or pains of any description. He should not have to suffer the indignities (and the pain) of an appendicitis operation, or the expurgation of his goitre, tonsils or adenoids. He should not have to put up with the inefficiencies which arise from his catarrh, his rheumatism or his liability to infection. All these diseases are nutritional diseases which arise from eating wrong food over a period of years.

Food Analysis.

Again we refer to official figures.

Dividing total consumption by total population we find that in New Zealand we eat about one pound of meat, half a pound of white flour, six or seven ounces of cane sugar, half a pound of potatoes, two thirds of a pint of milk and two thirds of an egg per person per day. We eat 2-3 [unclear: ounces] of butter but only a fraction of an ounce of [gap — reason: illegible][unclear: he][gap — reason: illegible].

These figures mean that practically two thirds of the food which we eat per day, is derived from cane sugar, red meat and white flour!

In other words, two thirds of the food which the average New Zealander eats is practically devoid of vitamins and minerals, and he cheerfully expects the other third to provide him with enough minerals and vitamins to make his body function properly!

What are the implications of these facts? To answer this, it is necessary to consult the newer knowledge of nutrition which has been so carefully worked out during the past twenty years.

The findings of the newer knowledge of nutrition are most interesting, and have a real bearing on the prevalence of ill health (mental and physical) in New Zealand. Nutrition experts such as Sherman, McCollum and McCarrison (to mention only three) have studied the diets of the healthy races of the world, and have compared these with the food of the so-called civilized races. The average composition of the more common food stuffs have also been worked out. Vitamins have been isolated, and their occurrence in foods has been defined in terms of international units. After twenty years intensive work on the physiological requirements of the human body, nutrition experts are getting nearer to knowing why the human body needs certain foods, and what goes wrong when the essential food constituents are not supplied.

When all this knowledge is condensed, we find that, unless every practice of food which passes the lips of any human being contains its maximum quota or vitamins and minerals, then some essential fond element is not being eaten in sufficient quantity.

How Diseases Arise.

Naturopaths are loud in their advocacy of natural foods, because they contain "life forces," which the science of nutrition is now defining in terms of minerals and vitamins. Call them what you like, the fact remains that only the freshest of foods, whether they be fruits, vegetables, milk, flesh or grain foods have their maximum quota of these life-giving elements. Naturopaths are quite right in their insistence on natural, unrefined foods, because when nutrition experts calculate the amount of certain foods necessary to supply adequate amounts of vitamins, they are appalled to find that. unless all food is extremely fresh and unrefined, the dietary will certainly be deficient in one or other of the food necessities. Small deficiency over many years lead as inevitably to disease or break-down of the body, as the leaving out of an essential building material leads to the crumbling of a building in time. No builder would construct a building without nails, yet so many New Zealanders try to build bodies without minerals and vitamins.

Returning now to the food consumption of New Zealand, it can be asked whether the major foods of New Zealand are the ones which contain the minerals and vitamins?

According to the official figures already quoted (which are the most reliable information available at the moment) New Zealanders live on red meat, butter, cane sugar, white bread, cakes, biscuits and potatoes. Yet among the protein foods, red meat is perhaps the most deficient and among the cereal foods, white flour products are the most devitalized. Cane sugar, whether it be white or brown, is practically nothing; but sugar and is useless except as an energy producer. Potatoes which have been peeled, boiled and mashed, are also robbed of their vital elements, so is it any wonder that New Zealand is unhealthy? is it any wonder that Crawford Somerset found 45 per cent, malnutrition among the school-children of Oxford (Canterbury), when their mothers food them on little but meat, potatoes, rakes and strong tea?

Adequate Nutritions

The League or Nations Nutrition Committee has brought forward its suggestions as to an adequate dietary for a human being, and this is what it says:—

Every human BEING needs a pint of milk, two helpings of green vegetables and some first class protein every day. All cereal food- should be eaten whole. The report also insists on the importance of fat fish, such as salmon and herrings, and the organs of animals, such as liver, kidneys, etc., as food. Eggs, milk, cheese, fruit and vegetables are defined as the protective food stuffs and the report stresses the importance of these foods in adequate dietary.

Plain Common Sense.

If a committee of experts such as the League of Nations Committee stresses the importance of milk and greens, and whole cereals as foods, surely it is just plain common sense to follow their advice. This report points out to us in New Zealand the dramatic error of our food habits.

If this report is considered seriously, surely we can now understand why 97 per cent, of our school children have dental carles, why twenty per cent, of them (at least) have goitre, why measles and influenza spread like the plague through the community.

The fundamental and real cause of all these diseases, is the food which we eat. We do not supply our bodies with the materials which they need, therefore they break down.

Gone are the days when malnutrition merely meant lack of food. Gross emaciation due to lack of food is no longer the sole meaning of the word. In New Zealand, most of us get enough to eat because we are not hungry, but the fact is indisputable that we do not eat food of the right type. Quantity of food is not our trouble, but Quality.

What Should Be Done?

The average New Zealander seems fundamentally to prefer his white bread, potatoes and meat to his spinach and milk. This is the first problem. The emphasis in all food matters must be moved away front meat and bread to the protective foodstuffs.

As an example of psychologically wrong food propaganda, the recent utterances of Dr. Elizabeth Gunn on school lunches are a perfect example. Three quarters of a column of newsprint is devoted to telling mothers that home-made fish and chips, meat plus and fried sausages are suitable for a child's lunch, in a few sentences, she dismisses the protective foods such as milk, fruit and carrots as food which are desirable but unimportant. Greens such as lettuce or parsley are not mentioned. Whole meal bread is considered "faddy." Does Dr. Gunn know more about nutrition than the League of Nations Nutrition Committee? If so, we are willing to accept her emphasis on meat and cold fried sausages, but If not, we would prefer to point out the necessity of the milk, fruit and greens part of the lunch, and leave the boiled sweets, sausages and meat pies until such time as our nation has become so healthy that the ingestion of such food will not seriously unbalance the daily intake.

The Quality of Food.

If we want further evidence that New Zealanders are not "nutrition minded." we have only to pay 1/6-at any restaurant in New Zealand for a meal to realise just how badly planned and cooked is the average New Zealand meal. Soup thickened with white flour, soggy potato, watery soda-cooked cabbage, a minute portion of red meat and badly-cooked apple with margarine pastry constitutes the average menu. How much of the original vitamin is left in these foods after they are cooked? It is the same with boarding house or restaurant roods. Universally, the vegetables are ruined, the fish (if any is smothered in a white flour batter, the bread is white there are too few (if any) salads, and the amount of milk supplied is always less than a pint per person daily.

Are the Women to Blame?

Whose fault is it that New Zealanders eat so badly? That the food served in private homes, restaurants, hotels and boarding houses is so ill-chosen and so badly cooked? Surely, it is the fault of the women, because they are the ones who order the food and plan the meals for the family. If all the women of New Zealand who planned meals knew more of the fundamental facts of nutrition, they would not serve the foods which are going to give their families deficiency diseases when they grow up.

Yet, even if the women of New Zealand did stop cooking their vegetables with soda, and loading their families with white flour and sugar concoctions (which they call cakes), there are still many pitfalls into which they would unconsciously fall when they purchased their food supplies. Women unfortunately do not know what they are up against when they ask for as simple a thing as whole meal bread, or fresh fruits and vegetables. There are so many difficulties in their way. Supposing for instance a housewife decides to feed her family on their pint of milk per day, and their greens and their fruit and their fish and eggs and cheese and their whole grain foods, and supposing that she has intelligently planned these into an adequate menu, and convinced her family that cakes and meat pies and sausages are not the best food obtainable, she is still up against the economic difficulty of finding the money with which to purchase these foods.

The Cost.

If no fruit or vegetables can be grown at home, the average cost of such a dietary at present Wellington prices is about 15/- per individual per week. A finally of two adults and two growing children therefore requires £3 per week for food alone! The basic wage is £4/1¾, and the average rent in Wellington is not less than 30/- per week, so is it any wonder than we do not eat an adequacy of the protective food stuffs?

Yet, in spite of these facts, if the amount of money which is now spent on meat and cakes and lollies by the average household were to be transferred to the purchase of eggs, fish, fruits and milk, and if every household made an effort to grow some greens, even if they only grow a window-box of parsley and cress, then the improvement in the health of Now Zealand would be enormous, and the saving in dentists bills would eke out the budget considerably.

More Difficulties.

There are more difficulties, too, which still have to be surmounted before food can be purchased for its full food-value.

How many people know that, for [unclear: instance].

1.Pre-cooked breakfast foods, which are [unclear: greatly] advertised as whole grain, are treated with superheated swam which tends to destroy the good antineuritic vitamin B1? In other words that the essential food vitamin for which we eat our morning porridge has probably been destroyed before we purchase the food?
2.That many brands of dried fruits contain a certain amount of sulphur-di-oxide, arsenic, and lead, which have never been proved to be harmless to human beings?
3.That the vitamin C in vegetables begins to break down as soon as the vegetables are pulled from the ground and that the vegetables and fruit purchased in shops are seldom fresh?
4.That the fact that whole meal flour will not keep as well as white flour, is the basic reason why we have been bludgeoned into eating white bread instead of whole meal broad?
5.That all brown bread is not whole meal? And that most of the so-called whole meal bread is made from a mixture of white flour and bran and that the germ is left out of the mixture?

Even so, knowing all these facts, we still want to know why certain things are as they are.

We Want to Know

Why salmon and herrings should be deleted from the import list when these are the only foods outside cod liver oil, which contain vitamin D?

Why our Pure Foods and Drugs Act cannot be extended to embrace the declaration of the contents of all patent medicines and proprietary

Why some better system of marketing vegetables and fruit cannot be worked out to benefit the consumer?

Why we spend so many thousands of pounds on new hospital wings and denial clinics, instead of buying oranges and milk and cod-liver-oil for our children?

Why, in short, we put an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, instead of a fence at the top?

What we Can do

As a contribution to the health of New Zealand, the individual can make himself or herself more healthy by:—
1.Asking for fresh fruit and vegetables in restaurants.
2.Refusing to buy counterfeit patent foods and white bread.
3.Supporting such organisations as the N.Z. Women's Food Value League and the Consumers' League.
4.Growing some greens at home and eating them whenever possible.
5.Cutting down the consumption of cane-sugar and eating instead such fruits as dates, raisins and other dried fruits.