Poor, rural societies who consumed high-quality foods that were bought locally were found to have the best diet and health in mid-Victorian Britain, reveals a new study.
A new study, published in JRSM Open, 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.
The peasant-style culture of the rural poor in more isolated regions provided abundant locally produced cheap foodstuffs such as potatoes, fruits and 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.
Dr Greaves explained: "The rural diet was often better for the poor in more isolated areas because of payment in kind, notably in grain, potatoes, meat, milk or small patches of land to grow vegetables or to keep animals."
"Unfortunately, these societies were in the process of disappearing under the pressure of urbanization, commercial farming and migration. Such changes in Victorian society were forerunners of the dietary delocalization that has occurred across the world, which has often led to a deterioration of diversity of locally produced food and reduced the quality of diet for poor rural populations."
Dr Greaves added: "Conversely, in much of rapidly urbanizing Britain in the mid-19th century, improvements in living conditions, better transport links and access to a greater variety of imported foods eventually led to improved life expectancy for many of the urban poor."