Height, Weight, and Body Mass of the British Population Since 1820
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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NBER Historical Working Papers
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National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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