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

  • Roderick Floud
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    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.

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    Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Historical Working Papers with number 0108.

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    Date of creation: Nov 1998
    Date of revision:
    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberhi:0108
    Note: DAE
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    1. Dora L. Costa & Richard H. Steckel, 1995. "Long-Term Trends in Health, Welfare, and Economic Growth in the United States," NBER Historical Working Papers 0076, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. 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.
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