This essay explores the amazing phenomenon that in Europe since ca. 1700 most diseases have shown a pattern of 'rise-and-fall'. It argues that the rise of so many diseases indicates that their ultimate cause is not to be sought within the body, but in the interaction between humans and their environment. In their tireless pursuit of a better life, Europeans have constantly engaged in new activities which exposed them to new health risks, at a pace that evolution could not keep up with. Fortunately, most diseases have also declined again, mainly as a result of human interventions, in the form of public health interventions or improvements in medical care. The virtually continuous succession of diseases starting to fall in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries suggests that the concept of an “epidemiological transition” has limited usefulness.

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European Journal of Epidemiology
Department of Public Health

Mackenbach, J. (2021). The rise and fall of diseases: reflections on the history of population health in Europe since ca. 1700. European Journal of Epidemiology. doi:10.1007/s10654-021-00719-7