Medical professionals play an important role in advising us on food-related matters: dieting, good nutrition, eating disorders, links between foods and illness, levels of carbohydrates, cholesterol, fats and protein, and so on. In the twenty-first century, efforts made by medical communities to promote healthy eating are often supported by government initiatives. Indeed, the imperative to eat well and be healthy has emerged as a central personal goal within the broader nexus of health initiatives outlined in the previous chapter. Since the late eighteenth century, scientific perspectives on food have informed how doctors have advised us on what to eat. In the nineteenth century, Canadian surgeon William Beaumont (1785–1853) elucidated the workings of the digestive system by examining a patient, Alexis St. Martin (1802–1880), who had been shot in the abdomen. As an example, in 1994 osteoporosis changed from being considered an unavoidable part of normal ageing to being officially recognised as a disease by the World Health Organization, turning sufferers into patients. The historical contexts of disease therefore offer an important lens for further understanding how disease takes on various meanings in particular settings.
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