Clean Living Movements: American Cycles of Health Reform

Ruth Clifford Engs. Praeger Press: Westport, CT. (2000,2001)

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      Based upon what has happened in America's two previous Clean Living Movements, I am predicting that the current health reform movement will dissipate within two or three years in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. National attention, along with personnel, money, and material, will shift from perceived health issues, such as college student drinking or youthful smoking, to the major dangers threatening the way-of-life or even survival of the nation.  The health crusades of the 1980s-1990s will become trivial, and likely forgotten, in a generation. See the Epilog of Clean Living Movement for other predictions.

      An update March 19, 2003: Several months after "9/11" Americans went back to "business as usual" as daily concerns about another attack waned. Issues of the current Clean Living Movement, such as the anti-tobacco crusade, did not abate. As this crusade intensified again, further restrictions against smoking were mandated in some states and communities. In addition lawsuits against "fast food" chains for making "people fat" arose. Alcohol, tobacco, drugs, and food issues have traditionaly been part of Clean Living Movements. However, I would predict, that if American conflict in Iraq is lenghtly, if it involves attacks upon continental United States and if armed conflicts should develop in other regions, that interest in current health reform issues that involve personal behaviors would dissipate. As mentioned in the material from Clean Living Movements: American Cycles of Health Reform, (see below) historically, armed conflicts that lasted several years such as the War Between the States (Civil War) and World War I (the Great War) haulted the momentum of health reform issues that related to personal behaviors.

The following information is taken from Ruth Clifford Engs.

   WARS: Real wars, (as opposed to health-reform “wars”) have played an important role in halting reform movements and [have] tended to make crusades for various health-related issues, such as
temperance, appear irrelevant (Walters 1978, x). Both the Civil War and World War I halted the momentum of the First and the Second Clean Living Movements respectively. In the aftermath of wars there has been an increase in the use of mood-altering substances among soldiers which may have been caused by exposure through medicine, commercial interests, and social pressure. After the Revolutionary War, there was an increase in alcohol consumption which peaked in 1830. It began to decrease after this time and continued to do so until after the Civil War. Following this war came an increase in tobacco use and also morphine addiction among war veterans. Following the First and the Second World Wars, cigarette smoking spiraled upward. Alcohol use increased after the Second World War and did not peak until 1980. Following the Vietnam War an upsurge in the use of many mood-altering substances, including illicit drugs, occurred, which also peaked around 1980.24

24. (p. 20) For statistics concerning the ebb and flow of tobacco and alcohol consumption, see in particular Rorabaugh (1978, 232-233) and Heimann (1960, 248-249). During both the First and Second World War cigarettes were passed out to soldiers as will be discussed in more detail in Chapter Eight [of this book].

     Several works [have discussed] in detail  cycles of religious awakenings and their ensuing political and socioeconomic changes. See in particular McLoughlin (1978) and Fogel (1995). Strauss and Howe (1998), in their recent popular work, [have discussed]  four sub-cycles--“turnings”--within the overall 80 to 110 year awakening cycles. The first turning of the cycle is the “high” which tends to be a post-societal crisis boom era when things are going well and there is a high degree of optimism. The second, “the awakening” begins a rebellion against tradition and reform for perceived problems in the society. The “third turning” or “unraveling” is when health-reform and other crusades come to a peak and there is a feeling of  hopelessness, the “crisis," or "fourth turning,” is a period of profound social crisis such as war or deep economic depression that dramatically shakes the pillars of society. Based upon this schematic, the health reform movements discussed in this book have emerge in the “awakening” stages. They peak and begin to ebb in the “unraveling”[and die in the "crisis."](fn 1., p. 16, emphasis added).

Epilogue from CLEAN LIVING MOVEMENTS (Go to top)
      I have attempted to show that over the past 200 years a health-reform movement, has emerged about every 80 years. These clean-living cycles surged with, or were tangential to, a religious awakening. Simultaneously with these awakening, out-groups such immigrants and/or youth were seen to exhibit behaviors that contributed to the undermining of society. Fear of these dangerous classes and a desire to eliminate disease, crime, poverty and other perceived health or social problems, on the part of the middle classes, led to crusades in each of the three reform eras against alcohol, tobacco, drugs, meat, impure food and certain sexual behaviors. Reformers in each era claimed that, based upon the latest evidence, these activities were extremely detrimental to America’s physical, mental, social or spiritual health. The substances or behaviors were demonized and reformers claimed that it was now time to eliminate them completely from society.
       The desire for improved health and social change also led to campaigns in favor of exercise, semi-vegetarian diets, women’s rights, chastity, and eugenics. In each movement, alternative religions were founded that adopted some aspect of health reform as dogma. In the
reform aspect of each cycle, a new infectious disease threatened the population, and alternative treatment modalities emerged some of which were later incorporated into orthodox medicine and public health interests. Over each succeeding cycle, reformers became more likely to represent grass roots beliefs, or even to be state or federal officials, rather than independent activists.
      The reform aspect of each sub-movement, within the overall Clean Living Movement, lasted approximately 25 to 40 years. Anti-alcohol and tobacco campaigns tended to have a longer duration compared to pro-exercise or dietary change crusades. Both moral suasion and sanctions of various kinds were used to convince people to adopt certain modes of behavior. Eugenics surged as other issues crested or were on the wane. A backlash emerged among some segments of the population against reform efforts when the crusades were most strident. After the reform surge of the movement had dissipated, laws made during the reform era often became ignored or repealed. During the 30 to 40 year ebb of the cycle, with a few exceptions, the memory of the
movement disappeared from public awareness.
      Today, at the turn of the twenty-first century, many sub-movements within the Millennial Clean Living Movement have crested and are beginning to wane. However, it still too early to know what ramifications these movements may have for the future or when they will cease to be important to society. Based upon the patterns of the waxing and waning of the different health reform issues presented in this work, I would like to offer a few speculative guesses as to the course of certain issues.
       I anticipate that eugenic concerns will continue to increase and may reach a peak about 2020. There will be increasing controversy concerning genetic background and biotechnology in terms of jobs, insurance, and health care expenditures. Concerns about diet and
exercise will continue to wane and will be of little interest to today’s youth as they age. This in turn will result in an upturn of chronic diseases before 2020. By 2010 the legal purchase age for alcohol will be lowered in certain circumstances, marijuana will increasing be allowed for medical purposes, and be legal for sale in some states for recreational use. By 2020, tobacco use, in some form, will again become fashionable. The neo-purity movement will continue to surge and reach a peak about 2015, youthful chastity will be an accepted norm among the middle class, and increasing numbers of middle-class women will work out of their homes in order to care for their children. Some of the new-age religions will become mainstream by 2030. A new religious awakening, and in its wake, the Fourth Clean Living Movement will rise again around 2040 (p. 267-268).

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