We test the impact of several demographic, economic and social factors on stature in an early nineteenth century environment.
We use a database of conscripts from the period 1818–1860 of a rural province in The Netherlands (Drenthe). This area had a rather high biological standard of living. This database of 413 conscripts contains information about family structure, family rank order, height, tax income, occupation and age of death. Conscripts came from two communities: one from a particular village (Oosterhesselen) and the other was Jewish conscripts that came from the countryside of the province.
Our statistical analysis shows a positive significant relationship between family size and height, which confirms the resource dilution theory. Remarkably, the sign of the relation between family size and life expectancy is inverse. Other factors such as the potato crisis and income had the expected effect on conscript heights. The community effect was strong. Jewish conscripts were much shorter than their counterparts. Access to nutrition, the specific food laws and other factors can explain this difference.
An increasing sibship size had a negative impact on body height but positive effects on life expectancy when adulthood was reached. Specifically for the Jewish community was the positive effect of the death of the father on conscript height. The mechanisms behind this phenomenon are unclear and open for further research.
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The authors declare no conflict of interest.
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Tassenaar, V., Karel, E. The power of the kashrut: older but shorter. The impact of religious nutritional and hygienic rules on stature and life expectancy of Jewish conscripts in the early 19th century. Eur J Clin Nutr 70, 667–670 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/ejcn.2016.24