Economic difficulties can lead people to change their behavior in many different ways — some of which may have negative health effects, such as cancelling a gym membership or cutting back on more expensive fresh fruits and vegetables. But as a recent study points out, the poor economy may have some positive health-related outcomes.
Released earlier this month, the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index is based on telephone interviews with 90,070 people constituting a random sample of the US population, ages 18 and above. According to a Reuters article, the study found that the proportion of Americans who are overweight has dropped slightly in the last year, from 36% to 35.8% (based on self-reported height and weight). The rate of obesity has also dropped from 26.6% to 25.8%. The study’s authors speculated that these slight but noteworthy drops might result from more people choosing to save money by eating at home rather than in restaurants, consuming fewer calories in the process.
There are, of course, other ways in which the poor economy may have had the opposite effect on overweight and obesity. According to an article published earlier this year at UPI.com, studies have shown that cutting safety net benefits such as food stamps can lead to a higher rate of child obesity. According to the authors, greater uncertainty in the face of a tough economy can increase levels of stress, leading to weight gain even in the absence of other behavioral changes. Changes to the social safety net are not, of course, the only way the poor economy may have hurt health outcomes: The stress of unemployment or reduced income, and the potential loss of health insurance coverage, could easily hamper blood glucose control and lead to other negative health outcomes.
Have the economic difficulties of the last three years affected your health-related behavior in any way? Have you responded to the recession in any ways that might both save money and boost your health, like bicycling or walking to work or forgoing unhealthy restaurant meals? Has your insurance coverage or medical care been compromised at all? Leave a comment below!