Can breast feeding help you in later life? Evidence from German military heights in the early 20th century
Considerable literature exists on the benefits of breast feeding on the health and survival of infants and young children, but there is less on the effects on later life outcomes. One such measure of health and well-being that has received attention in the historical literature is terminal adult stature. Information on height is rather widely available; however, it is much more difficult to obtain data on breast feeding. One country that does have such information is Imperial Germany (1871-1919). A number of physicians and local health officials collected information on the incidence and duration of breast feeding early in the 20th century, particularly because of concern about the unusually high infant mortality rates in parts of Germany. Hallie Kintner has surveyed the published results of these studies. The information on the prevalence of breast feeding for the period 1903/10 has been inputed into a database of demographic and economic variables for the counties (Regierungsbezirke) of Germany (1850-1939). There are also published data on heights of military recruits from the Imperial German military forces in 1906. These can be linked to areas in the database and related to breast feeding practices and infant mortality both contemporaneously and approximately 20 years previous to 1906. Results indicate a significant effect of infant feeding practices on later life outcomes operating through infant health conditions, proxied by the infant mortality rate.
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