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June 3, 1983

Crusaders for Fitness: The History of American Health Reformers

Author Affiliations

Reed College Portland, Ore

JAMA. 1983;249(21):2964. doi:10.1001/jama.1983.03330450086039

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Historians have recently devoted much attention to the social history of medicine, and James Whorton has made a valuable addition to that literature. Crusaders for Fitness is a lively survey of health reformers from the Jacksonian to the Progessive periods—from Sylvester Graham, the prophet of bran bread in the 1830s, to John Harvey Kellogg and Bernarr Macfadden, progressive proponents of dietary efficiency and physical culture, respectively. Whorton demonstrates convincingly that health reform cannot be reduced to health faddism, to fanciful schemes concocted by pseudoscientific publicists. Even the most farfetched remedies must be understood as serious efforts by middle-class Americans to take control of their own health—a "democratic" impulse with deep roots in Protestant American culture. It was an impulse against which the medical profession had to do protracted battle in its attempt to rationalize and monopolize the provision of health care.

The main problem with the book is that in