Recession Woes Affecting Waistlines
Recession Woes Affecting Waistlines avatar

Stress over the economy and worries about unemployment are making Americans fat

In a 2009 article he wrote for Reuters, Ed Stoddard (et al) made a prediction not about how the recession would affect peoples’ pocketbooks and bank accounts, but rather how it would affect their waistlines. Two years later, “recession pounds” is not just some made-up term, it’s a serious reality that is affecting our health and well-being. Numerous studies exist that link obesity and unhealthy eating habits to low incomes and financial crisis, something that many people are experiencing for the first time.

As health officials feared, people have been cutting back on healthy and costly items such as fresh fish, fruit, vegetables and whole grains, in favor of cheaper options high in sugar and saturated fats.

In Stoddard’s article, he quotes Adam Drewnowski, the director of the Nutrition Sciences Program at the University of Washington in Seattle as saying “People … are going to economize and as they save money on food they will be eating more empty calories or foods high in sugar, saturated fats and refined grains, which are cheaper.”

Drewnowski’s own research has highlighted the link between income and obesity.

“In Seattle we have found that there are fivefold differences in obesity rates depending on the zip code — the low-income zip codes have a much higher proportion of obese people,” he said.

In addition to not being able to afford or want to spend money on healthier, more expensive foods, the stress of losing a job or the threat of unemployment greatly affect our eating habits and exacerbate our attraction to comfort foods. Stress is yet another important factor contributing to Americans becoming fatter and unhealthier.

In an article by Martina M. Cartwright, PhD, RD in the September 2011 issue of the IDEA Fitness Journal, she calls attention to important research findings about the role stress plays on our health. During times of economic strife, stress and emotional upset rise (Tausig & Fenwick 1999). A study of unemployed Americans showed that 77% were stressed, 65% were anxious, 61% felt helpless and 54% felt hopeless (Van Horn & Zukin 2009). These are symptoms of “threat” stress, where an inability to cope is coupled with distress. (Dickerson, Gruenewals & Kenny 2004).

She further writes that chronic stress ignites the hypo-thalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, leding to an increase in cortisol (Henry 1997), which fuels appetite for palatable foods high in fat and sugar. These foods induce a fiesta of reward chemicals like dopamine and opioids with temporarily elevate mood.

America already tops the global obesity scales. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over one third of U.S. adults — more than 72 million people — and 16 percent of U.S. children are obese.

Drewnowski says it’s possible to eat in an affordable and healthy way, partly by relying on the basic foods which saw America through the Depression of the 1930s.

“The answer lies in affordable but nutrient-rich foods such as ground beef, beans, milk, nuts, cheese, carrots, potatoes, canned tomatoes, soups, and rice,” he said, calling it “a diet for a new Depression.”

And if one recession wasn’t bad enough, a looming double-dip recession could not only see more people fall onto hard times and seek cheaper food, but they are now cancelling or suspending expensive gym memberships and rightfully so. But it doesn’t mean that there aren’t other options to help you stay slim and fit.

FitCamp can help. While gym memberships are good for some, studies show that people get better results and stick to fitness programs for the long-haul when they are in a group fitness environment. Not only will you be motivated by others, but you get up to five excellent strength and cardio workouts each week that will help you battle stress and depression that you may be feeling about your financial situation. And… you one FitCamp session is about the same price as a large fast food meal!

 To your health!

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