IZA DP No. 5297: The First World War and Working-Class Food Consumption in Britain
published in: European Review of Economic History, 2013, 17 (1), 71-94
In this paper we reassess the food consumption and dietary impact of the regimes of food and food price control and eventually, food rationing, that were introduced in Britain during the First World War. At the end of the War the Sumner Committee was convened to investigate into effects of these controls on the diets of working class families. With the help of some of the original returns of an earlier 1904 survey, we are able to reassess the Sumner Committee findings. We find that although calories intakes did not fall for households headed by unskilled workers, there were substantial falls for skilled workers’ households. We also find that the price controls were particularly effective in changing the pattern of food spending. In particular, because the prices of many fruits and vegetables were allowed to rise very much more than other foodstuffs, there were large falls in the intakes of nutrients most associated with these foods, to average levels well below today’s recommended intakes.