Much of the data in this article comes from a paper commissioned by the Australian Bureau of Statistics for the Millenium Year Book, entitled Child Health since Federation. This enabled me to compare the statistics on childhood deaths and diseases and investigate their trends over the last 100 years, and I believe that from this a clear message emerges for us now in the 21st century. The epidemics of infections which killed so many infants around 1900 were contained by a series of community based, social and physical environmental strategies. In spite of inadequate knowledge about the responsible organisms and without access to either antibiotics or vaccines, they were remarkably successful.
As we start a new century, in spite of the increases in wealth, and educational and technological advances compared with 100 years ago, we are challenged by alarming increases in childhood and adolescent problems in physical and mental health. Many arise in social adversity and have coincided with recent profound social changes in society.