Since the start of the worldwide economic crisis, the number of people in high-income countries who are considered over-indebted – in spite of a severe cutback in living standards – has risen exponentially. Not surprisingly, profound indebtedness has been linked to an increase in stress levels, often resulting in poor sleep. However, it seems that over-indebted people have one more woe to add to their list of worries: the possibility of becoming overweight or obese.
A recent study conducted at Germany’s University of Mainz has found that over-indebtedness is strongly connected to obesity. People with extreme debt obligations are more than twice as likely to be obese or overweight as people with financial stability.
Low socio-economic status has long been associated with being overweight or obese but the link between indebtedness and obesity had never been considered until Dr. Eva Munster and her research team investigated the issue.
Debt Causes Obesity? The Study
The purpose of the study was to gauge the health standing of over-indebted individuals. A questionnaire was prepared for clients of debt and insolvency counseling centers. 949 over-indebted people participated in the survey. The results were compared to a 2003 telephone health survey in which 8318 subjects participated. Both surveys obtained socio-demographic information – sex, age, education, income – as well as BMI (body mass index), depression levels and smoking behavior.
Gender seemed to play no role in whether an individual was over-indebted or not. However, there were some common characteristics among over-indebted participants. They were younger, had a lower level of education and lower income levels. They also were more likely to be depressed and had greater daily tobacco consumption as compared with the general population. And, most interestingly, they were more likely to be overweight or obese.
These findings seem to be in accordance with a previous studies’ link between low financial status and a lack of access to healthy food. One possible explanation for the connection between obesity and over-indebtedness could be because of the inverse relationship between a food’s cost and its caloric content. High calorie food, (such as fast food and candy bars,) tends to cost little while the price of low-calorie food, (such as a bag of carrots or a crown of broccoli,) is higher.
In addition to the lack of financial resources for buying nourishing food, the psychological distress of an over-indebted individual should be considered as a contributing factor. According to the hyperphagous reaction hypothesis, a depressed emotional state can result in an increase in food consumption. It is therefore possible that eating imparts a positive feeling to over-indebted individuals.
Furthermore, over-indebted individuals tend to participate less in social activities and also engage in fewer calorie-burning leisure time activities.
In Germany approximately 6 million residents (7.6% of households) are over-indebted and one out of every three residents is obese. The German government has recently launched an anti-obesity campaign in an attempt to reverse Germany’s reputation as the fattest country in Europe.
Implications for Americans
In the United States, the medical community is considering whether the results from the German study are applicable to other countries. Certainly, a link between over-indebtedness and obesity is cause for concern, since the obesity rate in the United States is presently over 25% and rising. Furthermore, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) already characterizes American society as “obesogenic,” meaning that societal conditions exist that encourage obesity. Unhealthy food is more affordable, in part due to government subsidies of fattening foods like corn and other grains. In addition, the car-culture discourages exercise and many jobs are sedentary in nature.
Over-indebtedness may now be added as an obesogenic factor in the American lifestyle. According to a report published by the Reuters news service, more American citizens filed for bankruptcy in March of 2010 than at any point since the 2005 overhaul of federal bankruptcy laws.
What Does This Mean?
While previous studies have linked obesity to the traditional markers of low socio-economic status –lower income and education, depression and smoking habits– this was the first study to show that over-indebted people were more likely to be obese, even if they did not meet other definitions of a lower socio-economic profile.
This finding suggests that the fact of being over-indebted is, on its own, a risk factor for obesity. The researchers however, did not exclude the possibility of an inverse association between obesity and debt. It could be that obese people are discriminated against when it comes to job opportunities thereby facing higher chances of over-indebtedness.
If you are going or have gone through a period of debt, how have the changes in your psychological status affected your food choices and physical activity overall?
Matthew Stathis is a debt-free entrepreneur on a mission to learn how to build enough passive income that will pay for the lifestyle that he desires and the needs of the community he resides in. As a former biology research scientist at Washington University in St Louis, MO, Matthew is concerned about the obesity epidemic in the United States and around the world. He is interested in sharing the latest relevant scientific information in the hopes of educating the public about the crisis. In his blog, he offers a Medifast promo code, a clinically researched weight loss program, and a coupon code for eDiets.