Economic transformation and biological welfare in colonial Burma: Regional differentiation in the evolution of average height
Did economic development result in an improvement in biological welfare in the tropics before the diffusion of modern public health techniques in the 1950s and 1960s? Between the mid-19th and early 20th century, Lower Burma experienced a rapid rise in population and became increasingly commercialized as a major rice exporter. Land reclamation on a massive scale in the Irrawaddy delta required an arduous process of jungle clearance, land drainage and preparation, and canal and bund construction, mostly in malarial swamps. Once paddy lands were created, rice was grown with rudimentary tools in malarial zones. By contrast, in most parts of Upper Burma the economy remained more subsistence-oriented, and less commercialized. In this paper, we investigate changes in physical stature by processing and analyzing data reported in two anthropometric surveys conducted in various regions of Upper and Lower Burma in 1904 and in 1938-1941. An inverted U curve is observed in the evolution of average height in Lower Burma, while stature remained fairly stable in Upper Burma until the 1930s.
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