Health

Walking down the 21st Century Gin Lane

A woman feeind her child junk food Image copyright Royal Society for Public Health/ Thomas Moore

A new piece of art commissioned by the Royal Society for Public Health reimagines William Hogarth's classic 1751 cartoon Gin Lane.

It depicts a society preoccupied by junk food rather than gin.

The original showed the debilitating effects of a gin craze sweeping London and a population suffering from deadly infections common at the time.

In contrast, Thomas Moore's new picture shows how obesity and mental health issues are today's big health threats.

Image copyright RSPH/ Thomas Moore
Image caption Gin Lane 2016 versus Gin Lane 1751 (selected parts highlighted)

The updated version shows a mother salivating over junk food which she is also feeding her child.

In contrast, Hogarth's 18th century version focuses on a mother more interested in gin and snuff, who is suffering from syphilis sores.

Another clear difference is the prominent payday lender shop, replacing the pawnbrokers of 1751.

Moore's modern version highlights the popularity of high street chicken shops today, while Hogarth's work shows people almost skeletal with starvation.

Image copyright RSPH/ Thomas Moore
Image caption A fried chicken shop appears in the new version

Shirley Cramer, of the Royal Society for Public Health, said: "The original Gin Lane depicts concern with some of the leading challenges to the public's health in the 18th century - not just alcoholism, but other leading killers of the time including infectious diseases and malnutrition.

"The leading threats to the public's health have changed over time with infectious diseases now supplanted by the growth in non-communicable diseases such as those caused by obesity, as well as a growing awareness of the importance of mental well-being.

"We hope that when we look back on this piece of artwork in another 160 years, many of the health issues it depicts will be a thing of the past."

Meanwhile, research by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine suggests that the big killers in Britain today are heart disease and dementia.

Tracing official records back to 1856, they find infections such as tuberculosis and typhus topped the list.

Researchers Dr Alex Mold and Prof Anne Hardy say better sanitation and sewage systems have helped reduce the spread of many infections.

But they add: "By living longer, we are able to develop the diseases of old age, but our fates are determined both by individual behaviour and the social conditions in which we find ourselves."

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