Back to Food and diet. The Mail, as well as many other UK media outlets, presents a distorted version of a study exploring regional variations in diet among Victorian people, using surveys carried out at the time. While it may be that country-dwellers in generally had a better diet than their city dwelling counterparts, these findings don’t directly apply to What the research actually shows is that many people from both urban and rural populations in the UK were poor, had little food and were likely to be malnourished. Many relied on white bread, potatoes and some vegetables, with a little meat or milk if they could get it. There’s no new evidence that these people were healthier than the average UK citizen living today. In fact, the study shows that many died from infectious diseases. There’s little reporting of long-term illnesses like cardiovascular disease or dementia in the surveys included in the research, but it’s a bit of a stretch to say that this is all because the Victorian diet was healthier. It’s probably also because these conditions were not diagnosed as often and people just weren’t living long enough to develop them. The study is of historical interest but does not change the current healthy eating advice. The study was conducted by a single researcher from the University of Leicester.
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In this article we use a multiplicity of sources to document food availability in the period — and cross-reference this against earnings data to create a qualitative overview of the mid-Victorian diet, backed up by quantitative data where available and credible. Our findings reveal that in contrast to received wisdom, working-class mid-Victorians ate a superior version of the Mediterranean diet, with a much higher consumption of vegetables and fruits than has hitherto been realized. The positive impact of this diet on mid-Victorian health is described in the last article in this series, as are the implications for public health policy and research today.