Will Americans put on “recession pounds”?

By Ed Stoddard

DALLAS (Reuters) - Americans may reduce the amount they spend on food in response to a sour economy but some experts fear they may pick up weight in the process.

The specter of “recession pounds” is a concern weighing on health professionals, who point to numerous studies linking obesity and unhealthy eating habits to low incomes.

They fear that as people cut food spending they will cut back on healthy but relatively expensive items such as fresh fish, fruit, vegetables and whole grains, in favor of cheaper options high in sugar and saturated fats.

“People … are going to economize and as they save money on food they will be eating more empty calories or foods high in sugar, saturated fats and refined grains, which are cheaper,” said Adam Drewnowski, the director of the Nutrition Sciences Program at the University of Washington in Seattle.

“Things are going to get worse,” he told Reuters in a telephone interview. “Obesity is a toxic result of a failing economic environment.”

Drewnowski’s own research has highlighted the link between income and obesity.

“In Seattle we have found that there are fivefold differences in obesity rates depending on the zip code — the low-income zip codes have a much higher proportion of obese people,” he said.

He added that studies in California suggested that a 10 percent rise in poverty translates into about a 6 percent increase in obesity among adults.

The rate of new cases of diabetes soared by about 90 percent in the United States in the past decade, fueled by growing obesity and sedentary lifestyles, U.S. health officials said in October.

Nine of the 10 states with the highest rates of new cases of diabetes were in the South, a region with huge pockets of poverty and glaring income disparities.

America already tops the global obesity scales. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over one third of U.S. adults — more than 72 million people — and 16 percent of U.S. children are obese.

The unfolding recession could inflate U.S. waistlines further as more and more people fall onto hard times and seek cheaper food.

“The reality is that when you are income constrained the first area you try to address is having enough calories in your diet. And cheap sources of calories tend to be high in total fats and sugars,” said Eileen Kennedy, the dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University outside Boston.

RECESSION-PROOF BIG MACS

There is anecdotal evidence to support such concerns including the success of U.S. fast-food giant McDonald’s, which has a low-priced menu that is high in fat and calories.  Continued…

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