Health, Self and Surveys: Finding the Public in Public Health Surveys – new Research Fellow Daisy Payling

Daisy Payling

I recently started as a research fellow on Alex Mold’s Placing the Public in Public Health project. In it, we are investigating how the concept of “the public” was framed within health across the post-war period. My specific focus is on health surveys; on the growth of the survey as a tool to both measure population health and to gather information on public opinion of health challenges and services. I’m looking at the ways in which the public was constituted through surveys and also how the public spoke back to public health.

I completed my PhD at the University of Birmingham on activism and local government in the 1970s and 1980s, so I’m new to the Centre and the work of the Centre is somewhat new to me! But I have spent my first two months reading up on the history of public health and delving into the existing literature on surveys. Forays into archive catalogues and press archives have thrown up many interesting stories and added to my ever-expanding list of research questions.

I’m using the Government Social Surveys on health as a starting point. Looking into the reasons for and the conversations behind the Wartime Survey of Sickness and surveys into public attitudes towards diphtheria immunisation and campaigns on venereal disease. Examining the survey processes and findings and how they were reported in the press can illuminate who the public were, how they were conceived, and how public opinion emerged and developed as a useful concept in health.

Later I want to use surveys such as the ongoing National Survey of Health and Development, a cohort survey which started in 1946, to explore in greater detail the effect of health surveys on the public. Not just how participants spoke back to public health, but how being monitored has shaped people’s relationships to health.

To this end, I’m looking to interview people who have taken part in health surveys. If that includes you, please get in touch at

I’m excited to get more involved in the work of the Centre over the next 3 years. I will be teaching on the MSc course and aim to use material from Libraries and Archives in an exhibition marking 50 years since the Whitehall Study. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or thoughts about the project.