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Rationing food was good for us

Today, there are often reports that people generally were healthier during World War II than they are today. Certainly there were far less overweight people around during the 1940s, and this must in part at least be due to the system of rationing.

Rationing was introduced in January 1940. At the start of the war Britain depended on a lot of imported foods, including 50% of its meat and 70% of its cheese and sugar, 80% of fruit and about 70% of cereals and fats. A principal strategy of the Nazis was to attach shipping bound for Britain to demoralise the nation.

As food shortages started to creep in, the Ministry of Food encouraged people to grow their own food and also started a system of rationing. Here credit must be given to Sir Jack Cecil Drummond, the then Scientific Advisor to the Ministry of Food. He recognised that rationing was the perfect opportunity to address what he called the “dietetic ignorance” of the people and could be used to not only maintain but to improve the nation’s health.

Due to his advice, when rationing was introduced, it was designed to add more protein and vitamins to the diet of the really poor people and cut the consumption of meat, fat, sugar and eggs among the better off.


Each person was provided with a ration book with coupons, and had to register at chosen shops where they could buy items as long as they still had enough ration coupons to cover them.

A person’s typical weekly allowance would be 2 oz of butter and tea; 1 oz of cheese and 8 oz of sugar. Meat was allocated by price, bringing in new recipes for cooking cheaper cuts into nice meals; and coupon points could be pooled or saved to buy various tinned goods, dried fruit, biscuits, jams, cereals and other items.

There were different ration allocations for different people; for instance pregnant women and children were allowed more milk, eggs and orange juice. Manual workers had extra cheese. Free school meals were introduced for the children of poorer families.

British Restaurants were set up as another idea to ensure people were properly fed. At these restaurants people could get a nutritious meal such as minced beef with carrots at a reasonable cost.
Set up in a range of different buildings including church halls, they also help feed people who had been bombed out of their homes.

To ensure the rich couldn’t abuse the system with “off-ration” foods at top hotels and restaurants, from 1942 these establishments were not allowed to charge more than 5 shillings a meal.

Thanks to the food restrictions, people overall became much healthier. Rationing meant people were forced to eat less fat and sugar.

The results were that people stayed slimmer and had lower rates of heart disease than today.

Soon after the war, before rationing had ended, a typical British female for instance really did have an “hour-glass” figure, seldom weighing more than 9st 10lbs, wearing an average size 12 in clothing and a 30B bra size. Today the average is 11 stone. Men’s sizes were similarly smaller during the end of the war years.

The fourteen years of food rationing in Britain ended at midnight on July 4th 1954.

Of course, people had vastly different life styles in the 1940s and 50s; they walked more and more jobs were physically active and this would also have made a contribution to the overall fitness and health of the nation.

Today, according to a report published in the Lancet, around 67% of men and 57% of women in Britain are either overweight or obese. We may not want rationing back, but there are certainly health lessons to be learned from the years of World War II.

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