Getting People to Wish What They Need: How the United States Government Used Public Relations Strategies to Communicate Food Policy During World War II, 1941-1945

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Virginia Tech


This thesis examines how the United States federal government used public relations to improve the diets of everyday Americans during World War II. The government invested in several years of research, led by Margaret Mead, to understand the competing forces that influence dietary habits, choice, and folkways. Information about healthy eating was distributed to media and food companies along with other messages about rationing restrictions and compliance. A vestige of that time that still exists today is the USDA's Recommended Dietary Allowances. This study examines cookbooks, newspaper and magazine articles as examples of how nutrition information was presented. The study finds that the government chose not to prioritize nutrition messages as part of their overall PR strategy, but the messages were embraced by private industry and integrated into promotional materials. The addition of this story to public relations history challenges current PR histories as it demonstrates a comprehensive campaign that integrated research, planning, implementation, and evaluation of those efforts.



public relations, World War II, food, policy