The Journal of Economic History


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

John Komlosa1

a1 Assistant Professor of History and of Economics, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15260.


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.