Nutrition as a “Risk-Factor” – The History of the Risk-Factor Model for Cardiovascular Diseases in the GDR and FRG, 1960’s to 1980’s
Stefan Offermann, University of Leipzig
This project engages with transfer and entangled history approaches to examine the emergence of the US-American risk-factor model in both German states from the 1960’s to the 80’s. During the course of long-term population studies throughout the 1940’s, the concept of “risk-factor” was introduced by the new discipline of chronic disease epidemiology. Resulting from their statistical surveys, these new epidemiologists brought forth a large range of so-called “risk-factors” which had been previously unknown. Greasy food or a high cholesterol level, smoking and insufficient physical activity were regarded as the most important “risk-factors”. On the one hand, this new knowledge emerged in the light of the epidemiological transition from infection to cardiovascular diseases and cancer as being identified as the new primary causes of death in modern consumer societies. On the other, the shift from a situation of food shortage to one of abundance played an important role. Due to its new forms of measuring and quantifying the human body, as well as its systematic focus on a health policy which promoted individually orientated behavioral prevention measures, the risk-factor model marked an important shift in the history of the scientification and medicalization of diet practices.
In the course of a long-lasting and conflictual process, a new kind of medicine based on the risk-factor model came to prevail in the GDR and FRG during the late sixties and early seventies. This success was strongly promoted by the transnational convergence of goals and principles around nutrition and health policies, which even transcended the cold war borders. The activities of the WHO (both German states became members in 1973) was an expression of, as well as a driver behind, that process. This project focuses on the question how the nexus of nutrition and health changed in East and West Germany within the context of the new risk-factor medicine, as well as how new forms of subjectivation and technologies of the self emerged. By comparing both social systems I also seek to understand the effects that an increasing governmental interpellation of an autonomous ‘preventive self’ could have on an illiberal society.
Stefan Offermann works as a research assistant at the Institute for Cultural Studies of the University of Leipzig in the section for Comparative Cultural and Social History of Modern Europe (Prof. Dr. Maren Möhring).