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The Height and Weight of West Point Cadets: Dietary Change in Antebellum America

  • John Komlos (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 March 2009

A decline in nutritional status is inferred from data on the height and weight of West Point cadets in the antebellum period. The decline was geographically widespread and affected farmers and blue-collar workers the most; middle-class cadets did not experience a decline in nutritional status until the Civil War. Nutritional status declined because meat output did not keep pace with population growth. Urbanization and the expansion of the industrial labor force increased the demand for food. However, the agricultural labor force grew at a slower pace, and productivity growth in food production was insufficient to redress the imbalance.

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John Komlos , “Patterns of Children's Growth in East-Central Europe in the Eighteenth Century,” Annals of Human Biology, 13 (01/021986), pp. 3348;

W. Peter Ward and Patricia C. Ward , “Infant Birth Weight and Nutrition in Industrializing Montreal,” American Historical Review, 89 (041984), pp. 324–45.

John Komlos , “Stature and Nutrition in the Habsburg Monarchy: The Standard of Living and Economic Development in the Eighteenth Century,” American Historical Review, 90 (12. 1985), pp. 1149–61.

Kenneth L. Sokoloff and Georgia C. Villaflor , “Early Achievement of Modern Stature in America,” Social Science History, 6 (Fall1982), pp. 17;

Jean Sutter , René E. Izac , and Tran Ngoc Toan , “L'Evolution de la Taille des Polytechniciens, 1801–1954,” Population, 13 (07/091958), pp. 373406;

Roderick Floud and Kenneth W. Wachter , “Poverty and Physical Stature, Evidence on the Standard of Living of London Boys, 1770–1870,” Social Science History, 6 (FaIl1982), PP. 422–52.

Sarah McMahon , “Provisions Laid Up for the Family: Toward a History of Diet in New England, 1650–1850,” Historical Methods, 14 (Winter1981), pp. 2230.

Claudia Goldin , “The Economic Status of Women in the Early Republic: Quantitative Evidence,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 16 (Winter, 1986), pp. 375404.

Robert A. Margo and Richard H. Steckel , “The Height of American Slaves: New Evidence on Slave Nutrition and Health,” Social Science History, 6 (Fall1982), pp. 516–38.

Christopher Clark , “The Household Economy, Market Exchange and the Rise of Capitalism in the Connecticut Valley, 1800–1860,” Journal of Social History, 13 (Winter1979), pp. 169–90.

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