Recession fueling obesity fears

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With many companies facing mounting debts as a result of the credit crunch, we may face a new crisis in the form of obesity as German scientists find a significant link between levels of debt and being overweight.

A study of more than 9,000 individuals found that a quarter of those who were seriously in debt were clinically obese.

In contrast, just 11% of the remainder were obesely overweight, according to research reported in the journal BMC Public Health.

The researchers blame the trend on the high price of healthy food, and a tendency for people worried by debt to “comfort eat”. Over-indebted individuals were identified through a survey of people attending debt counselling centres in two German states.

In total, 949 over-indebted participants provided information on age, sex, income, education, body mass index (BMI), smoking habits and depression.

BMI relates height and weight and provides clinical definitions of what is meant by normal, overweight and obese. Someone who is obese has a BMI score of 30 or above. A second similar survey was conducted by telephone among a representative sample of the adult German population.

Study leader Dr Eva Munster, from the University of Mainz, said: “The recent credit crunch will have health implications for private households. While income, education and occupational status are frequently used in definitions of socio-economic status, levels of debt are not usually considered. We’ve shown that debt can be associated with the probability of being overweight or obese, independent of these factors.”

Debt impacts a number of risk factors for chronic diseases, for example by limiting leisure time and participation in social events, said the authors. The quality of an individual’s diet could also be affected.

“A person’s ability to pick and choose the food they eat often depends on the financial resources they have available,” said Dr Munster. “Energy-dense foods such as sweets or fatty snacks are often less expensive compared to food with lower energy density such as fruit or vegetables.”

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