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Body weight tends to drop during tough economic times
Tuesday, February 22, 2005 12:26 am Email this article
There tend to be fewer obese people during tough economic times according to a new paper from Christopher J. Ruhm, Professor of Economics at the University of North Carolina. One percent rise in unemployment, 0.4% less obesity, 0.8% less severe obesity
Ruhm estimates that a one percent rise in a state’s unemployment will result in 0.4 percent reduction in the incidence of obesity (a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more) and a 0.8 percent decrease in the incidence of severe obesity (having a BMI of 35 or more).
Body weight drops 4-5 pounds
Individual body weight also tends to drop.
“A one point drop in employment is predicted to reduce BMI by 0.64,” Ruhm writes.
This is equal to about 3.7 pounds for a woman of average height, and 4.5 pounds for a man of average height.
Greater decrease in obesity among the employed
Interestingly, it appears to reduce obesity in people who are employed more than those who are unemployed.
Among people who are employed, a one percent drop in employment is estimated to cause a 0.5 percent drop in obesity (BMI of 30 or more) and a 1 percent drop in severe obesity (BMI 35 or more), whereas among unemployed the estimates are 0.4 percent and 0.8 percent.
More of an effect on men than women, Blacks and Hispanics than Whites
Men seem to be more effected than women, and Blacks and Hispanics are more effected than Whites.
A one percent drop in employment is estimated to decrease the incidence of severe obesity in men (BMI of 35 or more) by 1.1 percent compared to 0.7 percent for women.
It is estimated to reduce severe obesity among Blacks by 2 percent, among Hispanics by 1.5 percent, and among Whites by 0.3 percent.
Weight loss among Blacks, Hispanics and men is associated with a large increase in physical activity.
Decrease in death rate
He also found that the death rate also decreases when the economy declines.
“Recent evidence indicates that mortality decreases when the economy temporarily deteriorates… [I estimated] that a one percentage point rise in unemployment reduces the total death rate by 0.5%,” Ruhm notes. “[M]ost of this of the decrease reflects better health.”
A one point rise in unemployment lowers fatalities from cardiovascular disease by 0.4 percent, influenza by 0.7 percent, and pneumonia by 0.4 percent.
Fewer medical problems
A rise in unemployment also reduces the incidence of medical problems.
“[A] one percentage point rise in unemployment predicts a 1.5% fall in the prevalence of medical problems, a 3.9% decline in acute morbidities and a 1.6% reduction in reports of ‘bed-days’ during the prior two weeks; some chronic conditions also become less common, led by a 4.3% decrease in ischemic heart disease and an 8.7% reduction in intervertebral disk disorders,” Ruhm states.
Less smoking, more exercise
The reason for this decrease in disease and death seems to be due to less smoking by heavy smokers, a decrease in body weight by people who are severely obese, and more exercise by people who are complete inactive.
Mental health may decline
“[A]lthough physical health improves when the economy weakens, mental health may deteriorate,” Ruhm points out.
“These findings are part of a growing literature emphasizing the importance of individual decisions and economic factors in producing health,” Ruhm concludes.
Ruhm C. Healthy living in hard times. J Health Econ. 2005 Mar, 24(2):341-63.
AUTHOR’S CONTACT INFORMATION
Christopher J. Ruhm
Department of Economics
University of North Carolina at Greensboro and NBER, UNCG
P.O. Box 26165
Greensboro, NC 27402-6165, USA
Tel.: +1 336 334 5148
fax: +1 336 334 4089
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