Body Mass Index and Health among the Union Army Veterans

Claudia Linares, University of Chicago
Dejun Su, University of Chicago

This paper explores the relationship between BMI and several health conditions among Union Army veterans who had their first medical examinations between 1891 and 1905. We find that used as a proxy of nutrition, BMI contributes to explain morbidity and mortality differentials among the veterans. The findings suggest that being underweight poses a serious threat to health, as indicated by highest disability ratings, highest risk of developing cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and respiratory diseases, and higher mortality risk. However, the association is disease specific. Being underweight is protective against rheumatism and musculoskeletal diseases. Although we did not find a significant impact of baseline BMI on development of diseases later on, we found that gaining weight significantly reduced the risk of developing gastrointestinal diseases.

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Presented in Poster Session 1: Aging, Life Course, Health, Mortality, and Health Care