The rural poor in mid-Victorian Britain had better health and lived longer

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In the United Kingdom, a new study examined the impact of regional diets on the health of the poor during mid-19th century Britain and compared it with mortality data over the same period. Turns out, poor, rural societies retaining a more traditional lifestyle where high-quality foods were obtained locally enjoyed the best diet and health in mid-Victorian Britain.

The peasant-style culture of the rural poor provided abundant locally produced cheap foodstuffs such as potatoes, vegetables, whole grains, milk and fish. These regions also showed the lowest mortality rates, with fewer deaths from pulmonary tuberculosis, which is typically associated with better nutrition.

The study’s author, Dr Peter Greaves, of the Leicester Cancer Research Centre, said, “The fact that these better fed regions of Britain also showed lower mortality rates is entirely consistent with recent studies that have shown a decreased risk of death following improvement towards a higher Mediterranean dietary standard.”