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date: 08 December 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter outlines several important body mass index (BMI) studies. A historical BMI composite is constructed for U.S. BMIs between the Civil War and World War I. Nineteenth-century BMIs were lower than modern BMIs, and by modern standards, historical obesity rates were limited. The BMI is an alternative source to highlight nineteenth-century health status. Existing historical BMI studies show that BMI values were linked to mortality risk and symmetrically distributed, that blacks had greater BMI values than whites, and that rural farmers had greater BMI values than other nineteenth-century workers. Throughout the life cycle, historical working classes were less likely to be underweight or obese and were in healthier BMI ranges throughout life. Morbid obesity in modern populations is more common than the historical likelihood of being underweight. Future BMI studies will continue to explore the relationship between BMIs, ethnicity, and the historical relationship across economies.

Keywords: body mass index, obesity, Civil War, World War I, mortality, ethnicity

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