Chapter

Health and Nutrition in the Pre-Industrial Era: Insights from a Millennium of Average Heights in Northern Europe

Richard H. Steckel

in Living Standards in the Past

Published in print March 2005 | ISBN: 9780199280681
Published online July 2005 | e-ISBN: 9780191602467 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/0199280681.003.0010
 Health and Nutrition in the Pre-Industrial Era: Insights from a Millennium of Average Heights in Northern Europe

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Gives perspective to the debate over living standards during industrialization by examining health and nutrition over the past 1200 years using stature either recorded on military records or inferred from skeletal remains. From an average of 173.4 cm in the early Middle Ages, the heights of men fell approximately 6.4 cm, reaching a minimum sometime in the seventeenth or eighteenth century, and recovery to levels of a millennium earlier was not attained until the 1920s. The decline that began in the late Middle Ages may be linked with a cooler and more variable climate; growing inequality; urbanization; fluctuations in population size that impinged on nutritional status; the global spread of diseases associated with European expansion and colonization; and wars over state building or religion. The upturn well underway by the nineteenth century was associated initially with dietary improvements and later with reduced exposure to disease related to public health measures and better housing.

Keywords: climate; Europe; health; inequality; living standards; Middle Ages; nutrition; skeletons; stature; urbanization

Chapter.  11625 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Economic History

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