University of Minnesota

Bernardino Ramazzini

1633 — 1714

Ramazzini, as the father of industrial medicine, professor at Modena and at Padua, might better be thought of as medical anthropologist than epidemiologist. For years his successful practice among the Italian elite was complemented by his active interest, curiosity, and compassion for the common worker. He was disdained by colleagues for his regular visits to workplaces, and when, over decades of experience, he compiled essays on the diseases characteristic of dozens of occupations in relation to environs and work habits.

This is made relevant to CVD epidemiology by his observations, and apologia, on tobacco workers and others in sedentary jobs:

“The exciting cause cannot be removed, and the sweet smell of gain makes the smell of tobacco less perceptible and less offensive to these workers, so we must give them the following advice: When they grind, sift, or handle in any way these wares—to do without them would be like doing without wine and bread, for our spirits would droop and social life would languish—they must take every possible precaution against that swarm of floating atoms by covering the mouth and nose, frequently breathing fresh air, washing the face in cold water, and rinsing the throat very often with vinegar and water; they should also drink it, for nothing is more suitable for washing away those particles or blunting their sharpness when they have adhered to the throat and stomach than something in which vinegar is an ingredient.”

“Those who sit at their work and are therefore called ‘chair-workers,’ such as cobblers and tailors, suffer from their own particular diseases… These kinds of workers as well as all others, men and women, who sit while they work at their job, become bent, hump-backed, and hold their heads down like people looking for something on the ground; this is the effect of their sedentary life and the bent posture of the body as they sit and apply themselves all day to their tasks in the shops where they sew.”

… “Plautus says, ‘Sitting hurts your loins, staring, your eyes.’”

“They should be advised to take physical exercise, at any rate on holidays. Let them make the best use they can of some one day, and so to some extent counteract the harm done by many days of sedentary life.” (HB)


Ramazzini, Bernadino. 1940. Diseases of workers. Trans. Wilmer Cave Wright. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.