The significance of health condition, disease, and causes of death as social indicators has been pointed out in the social sciences. Here, this is discussed in terms of the modernization era of Europe, in which relations between health condition of inhabitants and social development became evident. From a geographical viewpoint regional variations of diseases have been investigated to describe the regional context.
The author analyzes disease as a cause of death covering the period from the second half of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century in Europe, using data on cause of death as documented in church registers of three villages in the province of South Tyrol, northern Italy : Salurn, Kastelruth, and Unserfrau in Schnals. For this purpose causes of death are classified into 8 categories by affected organ and 16 categories by disease within two periods : the first from 1870 to 1880 and the second from 1900 to 1910. Patterns of causes of death and their changes are compared among the villages.
Within these periods, as a whole, the transition pattern of cause of death showed a change from inflammatory diseases such as gastroenteritis to tuberculosis to chronic diseases such as cancer and cerebrovascular diseases. This process has been observed particularly in villages where regional changes such as urbanization and modernization took place earlier. On the other hand, processes of change in each village were diverse. In villages innovated through urbanization and tourism, such as Salurn and Kastelruth, the trend of causes of death occurred earlier, while in geographically isolated villages such as Unserfrau in Schnals, a slower change in the causes of death is observed.
Such a relation between disease as cause of death and regional changes can be explained by the theory of “sequent occupance, ” advocated by the American geographer D.S. Whittlesey, for the purpose of explaining land use in northern New England. According to this theory, changes of regional land use reflect the various stages of regional change : land use depends greatly on specific regional elements. A particular disease as cause of death, predominating in a given region, results from the interaction of regional elements. The trend of disease in a region is shown to follow regional changes.
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