Oration
Winter 2002

Professor Jeremy Morris, CBE

Public Orator, Professor Adrianne E Hardman, presented the Honorary Graduand at the Degree Congregation held on the afternoon of Monday 16 December 2002.


Chancellor -

Jeremy Morris was the first to undertake the scientific study of the role of exercise in protection against cardiovascular disease. It is his research which underpins current appreciation of the scale of the problem – more than 37% of deaths from heart disease in the UK are attributable to sedentary living.

Jerry Morris qualified in medicine in 1934 and served in the Royal Army Medical Corps during the Second World War, reaching the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. When peace returned, he was appointed Director of the Medical Research Council’s Social Medicine Unit, a post which he held for 27 years. During this period he was first Professor of Social Medicine at the London Hospital Medical College and then Professor of Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. As Emeritus Professor and Honorary Research Fellow at the London School, he is still an active member of their Health Promotion Research Unit.

His interest in exercise and heart disease developed in the context of post-war aspirations to build a better world. Public health was changing to focus on chronic, non-communicable diseases and the modification of individual behaviour. Professor Morris’s work, alongside that of Doll and Hill on smoking and lung cancer, was instrumental in defining this new vision of public health.

He and his colleagues first showed that physical activity can protect against heart attack through studies of men engaged in a variety of occupations. In seminal papers published in 1953, they reported that conductors working on London’s double-decker buses experienced less than half the incidence of heart attacks as the sedentary drivers. (The conductors climbed around 600 stairs per working day; the drivers sat for 90% of their shift.) These findings were confirmed in other groups: postmen who walked or cycled carrying the mail experienced fewer heart attacks than sedentary telephonists and clerks. Professor Morris was imaginative in the design of subsequent studies which confirmed that the lower incidence of heart attack in men engaged in physically active jobs was not due to co-existing characteristics – leaner physiques, for example. London Transport Authority provided information on the size of trousers supplied to their staff. Trouser waistbands (a surrogate measure for what we now call ‘central obesity’) were indeed smaller in the conductors but their protection against heart attack could not be explained by their relative leanness; these active men had a low risk of attack whether they were slim, average or ‘portly’.

By the 1960s it was evident that if physical activity were to contribute to the prevention of coronary heart disease, it would have to be through participation during leisure time – physically active jobs were disappearing fast. Professor Morris thus embarked on a new prospective study of physical activity and other lifestyle characteristics in 18 000 men in sedentary jobs in the civil service. These men were followed for 8 years. Detailed analysis of the mountain of data generated showed that men who engaged in energetic, regular, aerobic exercise (not only sports but also cycling, swimming, fast walking) were only half as likely to have a heart attack as other men.

Subsequent studies by Morris and by others, in different populations world-wide and over a period of more than 50 years, have confirmed that the postponement of cardiovascular disease through exercise represents a cause and effect relationship. For his unique contribution, Jeremy Morris was in 1996 awarded the first International Olympic medal and prize for research in exercise sciences.

Professor Morris’s contribution to public health in this country goes way beyond his personal research agenda. A lifelong advocate for public health, he has worked tirelessly to promote policies to prevent chronic diseases, to promote good health and to overcome social factors that predispose to disease. He has served on the Working Party on Inequalities in Health, on Royal College of Physicians Committees on Smoking and on Air Pollution and been an expert adviser to the World Health Organisation since 1954. As Chairman of the Fitness and Health Advisory Board to the Health Education Authority and the Sports Council, he initiated and led the English National Fitness Survey which was published in 1992.

Early on, he recognised the importance of the media presentation of the public health case – without information, how can people understand the impact of personal behaviour on health? Professor Morris’s gift for communicating much meaning through a few words helps him to command the attention of media, scientists, clinicians and the lay person alike. One of the most memorable – and influential – appears in the title of a paper published in 1994 ‘Exercise: today’s best buy in public health’.

Chancellor, I therefore present Jeremy N Morris CBE , MA, MRCS, LRCP, MRCP, DPH, DSc to you, and to the University, for the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa.



Emeritus Professor of Human Exercise Metabolism
School of Sport and Exercise Sciences

 


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  H.D.McCullam@lboro.ac.uk, December 2002

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