Nutrition, Disease, and the Problem of the Poor*
Based on a careful consideration of official records and policy, this essay denaturalizes the connections between poverty and public health through a close examination of the career of poverty in official policy in India over the course of a century—from the 1850s to the 1950s. In so doing, the essay argues that whilst poverty was a recurring theme in India’s colonial governance and emergent public health regime, for a long time medical professionals failed to address it as a fundamental cause of ill-health and mortality, nor did they feel empowered to offer much by way of practical measures for its amelioration. Poverty was essentially seen as a background factor in the causation and incidence of disease or as the consequence of disease rather than one of its underlying causes.
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