People used to die from consumption. Does that mean they ate too much?

These days, some of us do seem to be consuming a lot — food, space, information, and time trying to figure out how to get even more. The consumption you're talking about, though, refers to a specific disease: tuberculosis, or simply TB.

Although consumption (aka "the evil disease") isn't mentioned much anymore in countries that have widespread vaccination programs, the deadly bacterial infection hasn't gone away. Tuberculosis continues to kill in unprotected and vulnerable populations around the world.

Once a leading cause of death in the United States, consumption is written into classic literature.

From Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn:

"Because it's mixed up with other things."
"What other things?"
"Well, measles, and whooping-cough, and erysiplas, and consumption, and yaller janders, and brain-fever, and I don't know what all."

And from Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment:

"They say that in consumption the tubercles sometimes occur in the brain; it's a pity I know nothing of medicine."

And from Upton Sinclair's The Jungle:

They knew nothing about consumption whatever, except that it made people cough; and for two weeks they had been worrying about a coughing-spell of Antanas. It seemed to shake him all over, and it never stopped; you could see a red stain wherever he had spit upon the floor.