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Widening the scope, targeting interventions, creating risk groups: maternal and child health in Denmark and Sweden from 1930s and onwards
  1. S Vallgårda
  1. Signild Vallgårda, Unit of Health Services Research, Department of Public Health, University of Copenhagen, Øster Farimagsgade 5, 1014 Copenhagen, Denmark; S.vallgarda{at}


The subject of this article is the health checks for pregnant women and children in Denmark and Sweden introduced in the 1930s and 1940s. It focuses on how political goals and means have changed up until today. The questions addressed are: Which health issues did the politicians and authorities find relevant to deal with? How should they be dealt with? Who were the interventions targeted towards? It is shown that from the 1970s changes gradually took place in two respects. (1) The scope widened inasmuch as increasingly more aspects were to be included in the examinations and guidance. Not only did they come to comprise the physical, social and mental wellbeing of the children but also the life of the entire family, including efforts to improve the parents’ social networks and their ability to handle their relationship with each other. (2) Interventions became increasingly targeted towards those categorised as being in need, either for medical reasons or because they were seen as less capable of caring for their children. Thus, this implied that the universal model of welfare provision was partly abandoned. The categorisations necessitated definitions of normality in more aspects and more surveillance in order to assess whether women and children lived up to the criteria of normality. These two changes were probably inter-related since the urge to target and therefore identify risk groups increased when more resources were invested as a consequence of the widening scope of the activities.

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  • Competing interests: None.

  • iIn Denmark a law on health visitors for infants was passed in 1937, on antenatal care in 1945, health checks of pre-school children in 1946 and on school health services in 1947. In Sweden a law on health examinations of pregnant women and infants was passed in 1937 extended to pre-school children in 1945, and a law on school health services was passed in 1944.

  • iiIn the Nordic countries society can signify both society in the meaning civil society, the nation and the state. This lack of a clear distinction between society and the state is most likely a sign of a less antagonistic perception of the relationship between state and citizens.41

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