Explaining the short stature of the poor: chronic childhood disease and growth in nineteenth‐century England1

Pamela Sharpe
Published Online:
09 Sep 2011
Volume/Issue No:
Volume 65 Issue 4

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This article examines the relationship between human growth, final height, and the environment in early nineteenth‐century England. While the reasons for stuntedness are multifactoral and involve lack of nourishment and in utero conditions, we should also give emphasis to respiratory, gastro‐enteric, and bone disease along with the inadequate and sometimes harmful arrangements for convalescence, involving opiates and inadequate rest. Hard work and prevailing social attitudes slowed recovery and affected limb and organ development. While survival chances may have improved, and indeed were enhanced by measures such as targeted poor relief, quality of life for infants and children remained low and had an influence on their height as adults. The bodies of surviving working‐class children showed the burden of hard times.

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