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The Rise and Fall of Pellagra in the American South

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 March 2019

Karen Clay
Affiliation:
Karen Clay is Professor, Carnegie Mellon University, 4800 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh PA 15213. E-mail: kclay@andrew.cmu.edu.
Ethan Schmick
Affiliation:
Ethan Schmick is Assistant Professor, Washington & Jefferson College, Department of Economics & Business, 60 South Lincoln Street, Washington, PA 15301. E-mail: eschmick@washjeff.edu.
Werner Troesken
Affiliation:
Werner Troesken was Professor, University of Pittsburgh, Department of Economics, Pittsburgh, PA 15260.

Abstract

Focusing on the first half of the twentieth century, we explore the rise and fall of pellagra (a disease caused by inadequate niacin consumption) in the American South. We first consider the hypothesis that the South’s monoculture in cotton undermined nutrition by displacing local food production. Consistent with this hypothesis, a difference in differences estimation shows that after the arrival of the boll weevil, food production in affected counties rose while cotton production and pellagra rates fell. The results also suggest that after 1937 improved medical understanding and state fortification laws helped eliminate pellagra.

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Article
Copyright
Copyright © The Economic History Association 2019 

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Footnotes

We thank seminar participants at the Canadian Network for Economic History Conference 2015, the Stanford Institute for Theoretical Economics (SITE) 2015, the Economic History Association (EHA) Annual Conference 2016, the University of Arizona, the University of Colorado Boulder, and the University of Michigan.

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