Correspondence: George Davey Smith, MRC Centre for Causal Analyses in Translational Epidemiology, Department of Social Medicine, University of Bristol, Oakfield House, Oakfield Grove, Bristol, BS8 2BN. E-mail: email@example.com.
Jerry Morris was celebrated as “the man who invented exercise,” but he was also an inventor of chronic disease epidemiology and serious epidemiologic engagement with social inequalities in health. Jerry grew up in close proximity to the notorious slums of Glasgow, and social inequalities in health were of more than academic concern; in his 100th year of age, he would recall childhood visions of poverty in Glasgow, and his own wrist was on occasion used to illustrate the stigmata of rickets to students.
While serving as Specialist Physician in the Royal Army Medical Corps during World War II, he published pioneering studies of the social epidemiology of juvenile rheumatism, peptic ulcer, and the effects of unemployment on health with pioneering social policy analyst Richard Titmuss. In India, he administered possibly the first British use of penicillin in war-time field conditions. In 1948, Jerry became Director of the newly established Medical Research Council Social Medicine Research Unit. He uncovered a link between level of physical activity at work and coronary heart disease risk, a nonhypothesized finding that he initially treated skeptically. After extensive further investigation, he became convinced of its meaning, initiated a series of studies into the effects of leisure-time exercise, and became a pioneer jogger and lunchtime swimmer. His entertaining and quirky book of 1957—The Uses of Epidemiology—expounded the methods of chronic disease epidemiology and remains a source of (often en passant) ideas today.
Jerry's key contribution to a 1980 UK Government report on social inequalities in health (the “Black Report”) revitalized this field internationally. A series of papers—one appearing posthumously—carried this forward, with a typically concrete focus on how the cost of a healthy mode of life was beyond the financial resources of those dependent on welfare or pensions.
Jerry was interested in nearly everything, it seemed, and his requests for “scandal” when meeting would actually be followed by animated and engaged discussion of plays, novels, music, and current affairs that left one (well, me, at least) feeling an inadequately informed philistine. He was intensely engaged with the world, and could not understand how nominally apolitical stances could be taken. His distress over the most recent example of Britain tailing what he regarded as US imperialism in the Iraq war was given poignancy by his status as a combatant in a war that was positioned against the real possibility of global fascism, rather than being for influence and oil.