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JAMA 100 Years Ago
April 4, 2007


JAMA. 2007;297(13):1498. doi:10.1001/jama.297.13.1498

The relation of the dwelling to health constitutes a problem, the seriousness of which the medical profession in this country has not yet fully appreciated. To the physician in Europe it appeals with force, since the defects of housing. . . are much more apparent there than here. In Berlin, according to E. Roth,1 43 per cent. of all householders live in apartments of one room, and that often unheated, and more than 70 per cent. must be content with one or two rooms as the most comfortable dwelling which they can afford. These miserable conditions are made worse by the fact that the rent of such rooms is so high that it must be reduced by taking lodgers or roomers. The number of people to a house tends to increase as time goes on, having risen in Berlin from 71 to 77 in the decade from 1890 to 1900. In addition to the danger to health from overcrowding, problems are presented in consequence of dampness, insufficient light and poor ventilation, which are of vital interest to the physician. Roth attributes rheumatism, catarrh, colds and an increased susceptibility to infection to the dampness of the apartments, especially of those used for sleeping. This defect may be due to the improper use of the house, especially for washing, drying clothes, etc., but much of the dampness is due to faults in the location or construction of the building. Another important matter in relation to health resulting from the location of the dwelling is the noise occasioned by factories, railroads, and street traffic. Some of this noise is unavoidable in a large city, while part of it may be lessened by judicious police regulations, but the power of the police is limited to suppressing such noises as can be shown to be detrimental to the health of the citizens. The exact effect of such noise is undetermined, but it is probable that it is a factor in the causation of that product of modern civilization, neurasthenia.