On 10th September 1973, Marc Lalonde, the Canadian minister of national health and welfare, addressed the PanAmerican Health Organization conference in Ottawa. His talk, and subsequent working papers and report published the following year, was modestly said to unfold a new perspective on the health of Canadians and to thereby stimulate interest and discussion on future health programmes for Canada.
The report had a world-wide effect on public health. While highlighting improvements in curative medicine, the report’s introduction also pointed out ominous counter-forces including environmental pollution, city living, indolence, alcohol and drug abuse, and eating patterns that put pleasing the senses above the needs of the human body.
The government of Canada set out to give to human biology, the environment and lifestyle as much attention as it had to the financing of healthcare. Some hypotheses might be sufficiently valid to warrant taking positive action. Being slim was better than being fat; it was better not to smoke cigarettes; alcohol was a danger to health, particularly when driving a car; and the less polluted air and water were the healthier we were.
Clearly and concisely written, the Lalonde report was taken up worldwide, and its sentiments replicated in planning in other countries. In England, David Owen was behind the work that produced Prevention and Health: everybody’s business in 1976.
(See A New Perspective on the Health of Canadians, Ottawa, April 1974.)
- For a fuller account of health history (though not this episode), see www.nhshistory.net