When traditional measures for health and economic welfare are scarce or unreliable, height and the body mass index (BMI) are now well-accepted measures that reflect net nutrition during economic development. To date, there is no study that compares 19th century BMIs of immigrants and US natives. Individuals in the New South and West had high BMIs, while those in the upper South and Northeast had lower BMIs. Immigrants from Europe had the highest BMIs, while immigrants from Asia were the lowest. African-Americans and mixed-race individuals had greater BMIs than fairer complexioned whites. After accounting for occupational selection, workers in agricultural occupations had greater BMIs. Close proximity to rural agriculture decreased the relative price of food, increased net nutrition, and was associated with higher BMIs.
nineteenth century US health immigrant health BMI malnourishment obesity