Height, Weight and Mortality in the Past: New Evidence from a Late-Nineteenth Century New Zealand Cohort

Evan Roberts, University of Minnesota
Kris Inwood, University of Guelph
Les Oxley, University of Waikato

The positive correlation of mortality risk with early and mid-life BMI is well-documented for modern populations but less well known for earlier cohorts when BMI was generally lower and medical knowledge more limited. This paper examines birth, World War I service and death records for 2500 men born in New Zealand between 1870 and 1897. Stratification by occupation and ethnicity reveals mortality was greater for indigenous Maori, and lower for men farming prior to WWI enlistment. We find an “L-shaped” relationship rather than the “U-shaped” relationship between BMI and mortality risk identified in other studies. There is no evidence of an effect from low BMI but the relative risk of mortality rises steeply for men whose BMI in early adulthood was 27 or greater. This finding is robust to alternate specifications of premature mortality. We find weaker evidence of mortality risk varying by height (which proxies for early life conditions).

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Presented in Poster Session 7