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From Beveridge Britain to Birds Eye Britain: shaping knowledge about ‘healthy eating’ in the mid-to-late twentieth-century

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Moseley, Katrina-Louise 


By the late 1980s, ‘healthy eating’ had largely failed as a public health discourse in Britain. Rather than providing consumers with a clear set of behavioural guidelines, it had fragmented into a confusing and ill-defined set of messages. In direct contrast to the anti-smoking campaign, which had succeeded in convincing large swathes of the British population to ‘quit’ an unhealthy habit, the injunction to ‘eat healthily’ failed to counteract rising levels of obesity in the 1990s, 2000s, and beyond. This article explores the emergence of a ‘healthy eating’ discourse in mid-to-late twentieth century Britain. It draws on a wide range of historical sources to consider how knowledge about food was re-fashioned across this period – by the state, by commercial actors, and by consumers themselves. While it is common to assert that the food and drink industry manipulated ‘ordinary people’ in this period, I argue that consumers were complicit in the shift towards ‘unhealthy’ modes of consumption. They worked processed food products and ‘healthy eating’ messages into their everyday lives in contradictory ways. In turn, this article makes a strong case for histories of the everyday, arguing that ‘small’ histories of consumption can help to illuminate macro-level trends.



4303 Historical Studies, 43 History, Heritage and Archaeology, Clinical Research, Stroke, Cardiovascular

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Contemporary British History

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Informa UK Limited


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