Jerry Morris, 1910-2009

November 19, 2009

The academic who decisively established the link between exercise and health - and was still exercising in his hundredth year - has died.

Jerry Morris was born in Liverpool on 6 May 1910, the son of recently arrived Jewish immigrants, but grew up in poverty in Glasgow.

At the age of 12 he tried to join the Labour Party, but wasn't accepted for membership until four years later, although his disgust at the second Gulf War eventually led to a break with the party more than 75 years later.

After qualifying as a doctor in 1934, Professor Morris worked in the Nottingham Public Health department and as an assistant medical officer of health in Middlesex.

He spent much of the Second World War in the Indian sub-continent, where he helped establish a hospital in the swamps of Assam, and when he returned to Britain he was appointed director of the Medical Research Council's social medicine unit. From 1967 until his death he was based at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, latterly as emeritus professor of public health.

With the creation of the welfare state, Professor Morris became closely associated with one of its founding fathers, statistician Richard Titmuss.

Then came his famous pioneering research project, which conclusively - and unexpectedly - demonstrated that active bus conductors were far less likely to suffer from heart attacks than sedentary bus drivers.

Its publication in The Lancet in 1953 marked a turning point in our understanding of the causal factors behind ill-health and early death.

While continuing his research into infant mortality and heart disease, Professor Morris published a celebrated textbook, Uses of Epidemiology, in 1957.

He had a major influence on government health policy, not least through his involvement in committees on smoking, air pollution and inequalities in health.

His latest project, which was explored in a recent podcast by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, set out to define a minimum income level needed for healthy living across the globe.

In 1996, Professor Morris was awarded the first international Olympic medal and prize in exercise sciences.

At a tribute on his 90th birthday, his colleague Virginia Berridge, professor of history at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said his career "symbolised the postwar redefinition of what is meant by the health of the public and how to improve it".

Professor Morris, who was active until his death, died of pneumonia on 28 October.

He is survived by two adopted children and four grandchildren.

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