London's Pulse: Medical Officer of Health reports 1848-1972

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Southwark 1894

Annual report for 1894 of the Medical Officer of Health

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Annual Report of the Medical Officer of Health—1694.


The following are the most prominent Diseases causing the Infant Mortality under One Year of Age :—

Deaths 1892.Deaths 1893.Deaths 1894.
Tabes Mesenterica (bowel phthisis)225816371038
Tubercular Meningitis, Hydrocephalus201012
Other Tubercular and Scrofulous Diseases161116
Premature Birth243644
Whooping Cough112029
Suffocation in bed111220
Debility, Atrophy, and Inanition428488
Other cases not specified or ill-defined3468
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From the foregoing list it is seen that " debility, atrophy, and inanition," is the
chief cause of infantile death in St. George's. This ill-defined group refers mainly
to chronic wasting disease, produced by malnutrition, which is again a consequence
of improper feeding. Infants fed on mother's milk for the most part escape these
fatal consequences, which chiefly affect children brought up by hand.
In this connection I must again emphasise the fact that infants during the first
six months of life are as little fitted to digest bread, arrowroot, cornflour, biscuits,
tops and bottoms, or any of the so-called infant foods as they would be to live on
sawdust, shavings, or other foreign matter.
Another feature of the list is the high death-rate shown from chest complaints,
largely due to over-crowding and breathing of foul air.
Another cause of diseases of this class is due to the fact that children have
relatively a much larger body surface than adults, so that with their quicker
circulation children lose heat rapidly and chills are contracted. Hence it follows
that they should be more warmly clothed than grown-up people.
Certain practical rules dealing with the problem of " how to bring up children "
are given in the Appendix. Their free distribution among parishioners would, I
believe, be a step in the right direction towards improving the condition of infant
life in Southwark.
Diarrhoea killed more infants during 1893 than in 1892, This may be explained
explained by the hot and dry summer of 1893, as compared with the comparatively
cold and wet weather of 1892. A similar explanation, however, does not apply to 1894,
when the death-rate from this cause, for some reason that is not clear, was higher
than in 1893.
It is an established fact that epidemic and autumnal diarrhoea always becomes
prevalent as soon as the earth thermometer reaches a temperature of 56 degrees F.
at a depth of four feet from the earth's surface.
Given this temperature and a polluted soil or environment the air becomes germladen
and poisons the milk with which the children are fed. I have little doubt that
the greater part of infantile summer diarrhoea may be explained in some such way.
With a view to lessening the high death and higher sick-rate from this disease I
would advise a serious consideration of the following causes of autumnal Fever:—

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