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Height, Weight, and Body Mass of the British Population Since 1820

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  • Roderick Floud

Abstract

The average height of a population has become a familiar measure of that population's nutritional status. This paper extends the use of anthropometric data in the study of history by exploring published evidence on the weight, as well as the height, of British populations in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and by computing the Body Mass Index of those populations. The results confirm a fall in mean height in the middle of the nineteenth century and show that this was paralleled by a fall in weight. Subsequent increases in weight and BMI lagged behind those in height. The data show no evidence of inequalities in nutritional status within families. Earlier findings of a period of declining height in the mid-nineteenth century have been attacked because of an apparent inconsistency with real wage data. The evidence for decline is now confirmed by further anthropometric and mortality data, while recent research into real wages has confirmed that a check to growth occurred and has thus removed the apparent inconsistency.

Suggested Citation

  • Roderick Floud, 1998. "Height, Weight, and Body Mass of the British Population Since 1820," NBER Historical Working Papers 0108, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberhi:0108
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    1. Dora Costa & Richard H. Steckel, 1997. "Long-Term Trends in Health, Welfare, and Economic Growth in the United States," NBER Chapters,in: Health and Welfare during Industrialization, pages 47-90 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Roderick Floud & Bernard Harris, 1997. "Health, Height, and Welfare: Britain, 1700-1980," NBER Chapters,in: Health and Welfare during Industrialization, pages 91-126 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Costa Dora L., 1993. "Height, Weight, Wartime Stress, and Older Age Mortality: Evidence from the Union Army Records," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 30(4), pages 424-449, October.
    4. Woods, Robert, 1985. "The Effects of Population Redistribution on the Level of Mortality in Nineteenth-Century England and Wales," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 45(03), pages 645-651, September.
    5. Feinstein, Charles H., 1998. "Pessimism Perpetuated: Real Wages and the Standard of Living in Britain during and after the Industrial Revolution," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 58(03), pages 625-658, September.
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    Cited by:

    1. Horrell, Sara & Meredith, David & Oxley, Deborah, 2009. "Measuring misery: Body mass, ageing and gender inequality in Victorian London," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 46(1), pages 93-119, January.
    2. David N. Weil, 2005. "Accounting for the Effect of Health on Economic Growth," NBER Working Papers 11455, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Noymer, Andrew, 2009. "Testing the influenza-tuberculosis selective mortality hypothesis with Union Army data," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 68(9), pages 1599-1608, May.
    4. Adolfo Meisel-Roca. & Margarita Vega A., 2006. "Los Origenes De La Antropometria Histórica Y Su Estado Actual," Cuadernos de Historia Económica 18, Banco de la Republica de Colombia.
    5. David Meredith & Deborah Oxley, 2013. "Blood and Bone: Body Mass, Gender and Health Inequality in 19th Century British Families," Oxford University Economic and Social History Series _118, Economics Group, Nuffield College, University of Oxford.

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