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The Health Office of the City of Düsseldorf on General Health Conditions (1946)

The harsh living conditions in the postwar period, especially in large German cities, had very negative effects on the health of the population. The diet of infants and children was terrible across the board. Children were underweight and susceptible to illness. A lack of shoes and clothing prevented older children from attending school on a regular basis. Most apartments were dilapidated and offered no protection against the elements. Heating and sanitary installations were lacking, as was furniture. Malnutrition, poor housing conditions, and a lack of hygiene were compromising people’s productivity and their ability to resist disease.

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A. General verdict on:

1. The average health and nutrition of babies, infants, school-age children, youths, and adults.

a) Babies: Nutrition is very problematic and for the most part completely inadequate, owing to a lengthy shortage of foodstuffs, an irregular milk supply, a lack of vegetable and fruit juices. The ability of mothers to nurse has declined. Bottle-fed babies are often underweight and have little resistance to nutritional disorders and infections. Pneumonia is frequently seen. Mortality has increased during the last few months; the primary cause is assumed to be poor care, since bathing and the timely drying of diapers has not been possible because of a coal shortage.

b) Infants: Infants are, even more so than in 1945, underweight, have weak muscles, tire easily, and are susceptible to skin diseases and tuberculosis. Nearly all children are suffering from considerable anemia and are constantly hungry.

c) School-age children: Their nutritional state is on average poor; their appearance mostly pale and tired. In many cases, considerable muscle damage and poor posture are apparent. The children are underweight and tire easily. An inability to concentrate was often noted. Colds, measles, whooping cough, and skin diseases are very common. Twenty percent of new school children test positive on the Moro test. Every day, 10% of school children are absent because they lack shoes and clothes. Youths and adults are especially susceptible to diseases, they become nervous and apathetic.

2. Living conditions.

Living conditions are poor. Many basement dwellings appear unfit for humans. As a result of confiscations by the authorities and extreme rationing, apartments are small and very crowded; oftentimes several people – including sick individuals – sleep in a single bed. Many dwellings are damp and overcrowded; sometimes, 8 persons live in a small mansard apartment, 14 persons in 3 small rooms, 4 persons and a baby in one room. Moreover, many apartments are still dilapidated, un-weatherized, and lack adequate lighting. Lavatories are often absent, so that feces and urine have to be dumped outside. The harsh winter cold is making the housing shortage particularly tough, especially since most apartments could not be heated because of a lack of coal. Living together in such close proximity has caused lots of disease transmission and many quarrels. – The living conditions for tuberculosis patients are still relatively adequate, since the housing office has so far paid attention to those suffering from lung diseases when allocating housing in under-occupied dwellings.

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