Lean Times Causing Obesity To Increase
The prices of shares are plummeting, but the food prices are going up at the grocery store. Just thinking about it could make you lose your
appetite and inspire belt-tightening–or, alternatively, give you a serious craving for some comfort food.
Rising unemployment, higher food prices and dwindling savings may exacerbate the the global obesity problem, sending already high rates ballooning as consumers turn to cheaper, more unhealthy choices.
“All evidence suggests that obesity is the toxic consequence of a failing economic environment,” Adam Drewnowski, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington in Seattle, was quoted as saying by MSNBC.com.
As households struggle with falling incomes and with food prices jump, families are scrimping on groceries. Nearly six in 10 Americans said they’ve cut back on the quality or quantity of the food they buy, according to an annual hunger survey released this week by Hormel Foods Corp.
But that doesn’t mean they’re dieting, noted Drewnowski, whose research has found a consistent link between poverty and obesity, including a recent study that showed that obesity rates were five times higher in lower-value Seattle ZIP code areas than in upscale neighbourhoods, the website reported.
“It is quite possible to spend less and eat more,” said Drewnowski. “The very cheapest foods are calorie-rich and nutrient-poor. Because they contain refined grains, sugars and fats, they also taste good and, of course, are easy to come by.”
Although more than a third of American adults and children are obese, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate recently appeared to stabilize, particularly among young people ages 2 to 19.
But Drewnowski said the current economic crisis, which affects a wide swath of society, is likely to erase any progress, leading to more obesity and related health harms, from heart disease to diabetes. “Now that we are all poor, the rates will go up again,” he said. “I predict an increase that will become apparent in about three years.”
Financially stressed shoppers are likely to trade pricey whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables for low-cost but high-fat alternatives, said Lauren A. Haldeman, an associate professor in the Department of Nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, who studies poverty and obesity.
That’s partly because fruits and vegetables cost more for less energy than processed foods, said Dr. Judith Wylie-Rosett, a professor of epidemiology and population health at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.
Also, those grappling with economic uncertainty may be more likely to seek sweet or high-fat comfort foods and less likely to exert the effort it takes to maintain a nutritious diet.