Using data from late 19th and early 20th century US prisons, this study estimates the basal metabolic rates and calories for Americans of European descent. Throughout the 19th century, white basal metabolic rates (BMRs) and calories declined across their respective distributions, and much of the decrease coincides with economic development. White life expectancy increased at the same time that nutrition decreased, indicating that the most important source of increased life expectancy was not improved nutrition. Physically active farmers had greater BMRs and received more calories per day than workers in other occupations. White diets, nutrition, and calories varied by residence, and whites in the rural Deep South consumed the most calories per day, while Northeastern urban whites consumed the least.
nineteenth century US diets physical activity nutrition