Modern Health Standards for Peoples of the Past: Biological Conditions by Race in the American South, 1873 – 1919
Recent modern life expectancy improvements rely heavily on medical intervention; however, before the mid-20th century, increased longevity was primarily the result of improved nutrition and less virulent disease environments. Moreover, 19th century health conditions varied by race, especially in the American South. The body mass index (BMI) reflects health conditions, and male BMIs in Texas State Prison reflected diseases associated with low BMI diseases, i.e., respiratory and infectious diseases, and tuberculosis. When able to work, Southern African-Americans in the 19th century acquired heavier BMIs during prime working ages; however, when they were no longer productive and exited the labor force, their BMIs declined, and older black males became more vulnerable to low BMI diseases.
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