Evidence of chronic undernutrition in late 19th century German infants of all social classes

Keywords: chronic undernutrition, breastfeeding, historical growth, social class, translation


125 years ago, European infants grew differently from modern infants. We show weight gains of 20 healthy children weighed longitudinally from birth to age 1 year, published by Camerer in 1882. The data illustrate the historically prevalent concepts of infant nutrition practiced by German civil servants, lawyers, merchants, university professors, physicians, foresters and farmers. Breastfeeding by the mother was not truly appreciated in those days; children were often breastfed by wet nurses or received bottled milk. Bottle feeding mainly used diluted cow’s milk with some added carbohydrates, without evidence that appropriate amounts of oil, butter or other fatty components were added. French children from 1914 showed similar weight gain patterns suggesting similar feeding practices. The historical data suggest that energy deficient infant formula was fed regularly in the late 19th and early 20th century Europe, regardless of wealth and social class. The data question current concerns that temporarily feeding energy deficient infant formula may warrant serious anxieties regarding long-term cognitive, social and emotional behavioral development.


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How to Cite
Hermanussen, M., & Scheffler, C. (2022). Evidence of chronic undernutrition in late 19th century German infants of all social classes. Human Biology and Public Health, 2. https://doi.org/10.52905/hbph2022.2.42
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