How to safeguard a healthy future?

In recent years, an influential movement of physicians and politicians has started to claim that Dutch health care should focus more on prevention. Critics, however, argue that these ambitions elaborate on increasing governmental control throughout the twentieth century. Yet, remarkably little is known about the history of Dutch preventive child health interventions.


Martijn van der Meer is honored with a NWO PhDs in the Humanities grant to investigate in the coming five years how Dutch preventive child health interventions emerged from the co-construction of preventive policy and practice throughout the twentieth century. This research project is a collaboration between History @ Erasmus and Erasmus MC and will be supervised by promotor Ralf Futselaar and co-promotor Timo Bolt.

The enthusiasm of this influential movement of physicians and politicians resulted in the National Prevention Agreement. According to this agreement, health policies should primarily target young “children-at-risk”. Critics, on the other hand, have argued that the alliance between politicians and physicians would result in an increasing tendency to interpret social issues as medical problems. This increases the power of medicine, while government intervention seems more often necessary than it actually is.

Caricatured interpretation
Both the enthusiasm, as well as the criticism of preventive youth health care are based on a caricatured interpretation of the twentieth century development of public health care. Very little is known about the history of preventive youth health care interventions in the Netherlands. What were the ideological motives that legitimated the care for vulnerable children? Was there indeed an increase in government involvement? Did youth health care have the same results for everyone, or were specific groups monitored more closely than others? What was the role of parents? And are there any changes to be discovered in this history?

Long-term perspective
Van der Meer will research how health professionals, civil servants and parents shaped preventive youth health care for “high-risk” children up to 4 years of age, in order to analyse how these health care networks and the political debate on prevention influenced each other. In doing so, he wants to bring a long-term perspective on the tension between ideologically driven public health policy and preventive practice.

Portrait of Martijn van der Meer

Martijn van der Meer: "I feel honored to be able to carry out this exciting project with fantastic researchers in Rotterdam. I look forward to the years to come and foster the connection between the humanitites and biomedical sciences."

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