Saturday, July 30, 2016

Researchers find link between increasing unemployment rates and increases in the risk of children becoming overweight during economic downturn

Public Release: 2-Jun-2016
How the Great Recession weighed on children
Researchers find link between increasing unemployment rates and increases in the risk of becoming overweight during economic downturn
Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researchers have found that increases in unemployment in California during the Great Recession were associated with an increased risk for weight gain among the state's 1.7 million public school students, suggesting that economic troubles could have long-term health consequences for children.

The researchers, publishing online June 1 in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, say that for every one percentage point increase in county-level unemployment between the years of 2008 and 2012, the school children had a four percent increased risk of becoming overweight. The average change in unemployment over the time period was 5.4 percentage points, putting the increased risk that a child would become overweight at 21 percent.

Prior research has shown that even small changes in weight - between five and 10 percent - in children and adolescents can increase the risk of developing chronic diseases in the future.


In 2008, just as the recession was beginning, 28 percent of the children in the state's public schools were considered overweight. While the percentage of overweight children peaked at 40 percent in 2009, it slipped but was still at 37 percent in 2012.

"Unemployment not only impacts adults," Oddo says. "Children are impacted and it's not something we really talk about."

While the researchers found a link between increases in unemployment and an increased risk that a child would be overweight, they can only speculate about the reasons behind their findings. They believe that in times of belt-tightening, families may have changed their food purchasing habits or school districts could have cut back on sports leagues or after-school activities promoting exercise.

"We think they likely gained weight because with decreased economic resources, families may be trading more expensive healthy food like fresh fruits and vegetables for cheaper, higher calorie alternatives such as highly processed convenience food," says the study's senior author Jessica C. Jones-Smith, PhD, MPH, an assistant professor in the Department of International Health at the Bloomberg School. "The stuff that is convenient and tasty is also high in calories and may be the kind of food people turn to in these economically constrained times."


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