Could an explosion in tea-drinking explain a decline in deaths in England during the industrial revolution? Professor Francisca Antman, an economist at the University of Colorado Boulder believes it might. Tim Harford discovers that dusting down the data from tea shipments and local burial records gives us surprising insight into how boiling water for tea accidentally improved public health.
Her research shows that public health in England improved in the 18th century when the price of Indian tea was reduced, allowing more people to drink it. The boiled water in tea was safer than available tapwater in some areas of the country, and this was reflected in reduced mortality in regions with unsafe tapwater.