Souring Economy Sweetens Meals

November 11th, 2008 | Sources: MSNBC, RWJ Foundation

The familiar metaphor about tightening one’s belt during hard times may be a bit misleading, public health experts warn. There is growing concern in fact that the Great Economic Crisis of 2008 will promote further expansion of America’s already plump waistline.

Faced with shrinking cash on hand and increasing food prices, tens of millions of American consumers are likely to turn to inexpensive but calorie-leaden meals such as fast food or macaroni and cheese.

“All evidence suggests that obesity is the toxic consequence of a failing economic environment,” Adam Drewnowski, an epidemiologist at the University of Washington, told MSNBC.

Drewnowski’s most recent investigation of the matter showed for example that obesity rates were 5 times higher in poorer sections of Seattle than in its tonier suburbs.
The disheartening trend has already begun. According to a survey published last week by Hormel Foods, 60% of US households have cut back on either the quality or the quantity of purchased food during the past year.

“It is quite possible to spend less and eat more,” Drewnowski added. “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.”

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one third of US children and adults and children are obese, but recently the incidence of obesity had begun to stabilize, especially among those younger than age 20. But even that modestly positive development is unlikely to be maintained.

“Now that we are all poor, the rates will go up again,” Drewnowski told MSNBC. “I predict an increase that will become apparent in about three years.”


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