Friday, January 9, 2009

Laid Off and Bulking Up

The two biggest scare stories in the news--the economy and obesity rates--come together in one disturbing Reuters article: "Will Americans Put on 'Recession Pounds'?"

Americans, goes the thinking in the article, gravitate toward "cheap calories" that are high in sugar, refined grains, and saturated fats when they are feeling pinched for cash. Hence the continuing success of McDonald's during the recession. "Obesity is a toxic result of a failing economic environment," notes researcher Adam Drewnowski in the piece.

Well, sure. When you've been laid off, it's certainly more appealing to buy a 99-cent cheeseburger than a $5 salad. And there have been loads of studies linking obesity with lower income levels.

But an equally potent predictor of obesity seems to be education levels, which also correlate with income levels. Basically, if you have only a high school or lower education, you're more likely to be living in poverty and overweight. But are you overweight because you're poor or because you're undereducated?

Granted, in many poorer neighborhoods, food shopping choices are limited. But people losing their jobs don't necessarily become uneducated. If they knew how to eat healthy before getting laid off, they still have that knowledge afterward.

Last year I went through a personal economic crisis. Yeah, I did stop shopping at expensive chain natural food stores like Whole Foods, but it didn't mean that I stopped buying healthy food. Instead, I buy tons of cheap produce (choosing fruits and veggies with a small residual pesticide load when I don't have enough cash to buy organics), bulk beans and nuts, whole grain breads, and dairy products for pretty cheap at my local employee-owned discount supermarket.

It's a conclusion that even Drewnowski is forced to come to, way down at the bottom of the article, after freaking us all out with his predictions that we're all going to become a nation of poverty-stricken fatties: "Drewnowski said it was possible to eat in an affordable and healthy way, partly by relying on the basic foods which saw America through the Depression of the 1930s ... The answer lies in affordable but nutrient-rich foods such as ground beef, beans, milk, nuts, cheese, carrots, potatoes, canned tomatoes, soups, and rice," he said, calling it 'a diet for a new Depression.'"

Hopefully the economy will crank up soon and we won't have to take more extreme measures.

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