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July 22nd, 2008
01:13 PM ET

Can a bad economy benefit your health?

By Jennifer Pifer
CNN Medical Senior Producer

My fiancé, Mark, is becoming a walk-a-holic.  Every day, he walks at least two miles.  Is it to get in shape?  Not necessarily.  It's because gas prices are getting too freaking high. 

Mark now takes MARTA, the public transportation system in Atlanta, to work every day.  We are not eating out as much as we use to. Since we’re eating in more often, we look for healthier bargains – like fruit that’s in season.   It seems I am becoming my grandma: clipping coupons, buying only things on sale and limiting my driving.  We also have two homes on the market (any one want to buy a condo?) and are planning a wedding.  The "perfect storm" of stress and anxiety is brewing and threatens to waterlog our lives.

Yet, strangely, we are both feeling healthier than we have in a long time.  We’re doing more things that don’t cost money, which often involves being more active. 

The other day, I stepped on the scale and was surprised to find I had actually lost 5 pounds.  I haven't been dieting. I've just downsized. Simple things now bring me more pleasure.  I had no idea a group of African immigrants meet every week to play traditional music and dance in our local public gymnasium.  What a wonderful treat to see as I walked to our town square recently to run an errand.  I left feeling happy and less stressed.

There seems to be a little science behind what I have observed.  In 2003, a North Carolina researcher found "smoking, height-adjusted weight, and leisure-time physical inactivity decline when economic conditions worsen." (read study

So is possible that the bad economy is actually good for your health?  What do you think?

 
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soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. grace

    It's not necessarily a bad economy. Less of things that measure on our currently accepted economic scales might actually be good economy. It's getting to that point where more is really not better. It's healthier and better for the environment to walk and bike than to drive. It's healthier to grow your own vegetables, fruit, and herbs and spend time outdoors gardening. It's healthier to cook your own meals. It's healthier to not work so many hours. All of these are choices people make to improve their health and quality of life and they all reduce GDP.

    I think this applies especially for the health sector. The more a society spends on health care means the sicker the people actually are. Insurance companies know this relationship very well. But for some reason people seem to have this idea that since we spend so much on health care then that means we should be healthier.

    July 22, 2008 at 22:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Julia

    However, we must remember that a down economy causes higher stress, which is bad for our health if it exceeds normal levels.

    July 23, 2008 at 12:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Pat Dean-Love

    I expect weight gain with the economic down-turn. The price of food translates to fewer fresh fruits and vegetables and reduced lean protein. I'm having to go back to higher fat and starch dishes to stretch our dollars and fill our tummies. This will, of course, have other health impacts in addiiton to weight gain. My daughter and I are hypoglycemic so I'm treading a very fine line!

    July 23, 2008 at 13:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Rita

    I agree with Pat about having to buy high-fat, high-cal foods, like Mac-n-cheese, to stretch the dollar. Julia also brought up a good point about stress and the economic changes. My health club is about 10 minutes away and I drive close to an hour each way to work five times a week. I, many times, find myself foregoing my workout so I can save that gas for the next day. So, I also believe that today's economy is affecting many of us negatively healthwise.

    July 23, 2008 at 15:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Emily

    I started biking to work a few weeks ago (it was ridiculous that I was driving in the first place, as it's very close), and I've already lost a few pounds without changing anything else about my lifestyle.

    Rising gas prices obviously cause a lot of problems, but they do make me see a lot more people out getting exercise or taking public transportation, and that's a good thing.

    July 23, 2008 at 15:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Sam

    When I go to the grocery store and see how much prices are rising, I tend to stop buying things that I don't really have to have. I cut back on things like snack foods, cheese, alcohol, bacon, and steaks. I drink more water, eat more chicken (relatively cheaper and there are so many ways to prepare it), and rarely snack. After doing this now for a few months, I find I don't really miss the things I have eliminated from my diet and figure that a lot of snacking was more of a habit.

    I have always brown-bagged my lunch (much healthier and cheaper than eating fast-food) and I see many of my colleagues doing the same now.

    So I can see how a tougher economy can make us pay more attention to the things we are buying to eat. For me, the bad economy has been a benefit to my health. Now if only my town was bike-friendly I would get out of my car and back on my bicycle.

    July 24, 2008 at 16:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Melinda

    What to do.....what to do. Interesting article and while I agree with your comments, both pro and con, I have to say that I find it disturbing that health care costs continue to rise, in some part, because some do not practice preventive medicine. I don't believe the government has a right to tell anybody how much they can weigh, however, at the same time, I don't appreciate when people don't take the best care of themselves that they can, causing gridlock in the medical field.

    July 24, 2008 at 18:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Carla

    In a way I am glad that the price of gas has gone up, it has been a huge eye opener for me and my family. We have gone down to one car, I asked for a transfer to an office closer to my house, which was approved, so now I walk to work. I also think that it is very important for our kids to learn how to eat well, exercise and respect the environment. I also find that I have more time with my children.

    July 24, 2008 at 19:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. grace

    With regard to the comments about having to buy more starch and fatty foods because of rising food prices, I thought the food items that have increased in price the most are grains such as corn, wheat, and rice.

    To save money, I would reduce meat and *increase* vegetables, fruit, and legumes, and switch away from breads and pastas to rice.

    The price of rice has doubled but it's still only around $35 for a 50 lb. bag of premium rice at the local Asian supermarket. A 50 lb. bag lasts me an entire year eating an entire plateful of rice at every meal. That makes the cost of the carbohydrate portion of my diet $0.10 per day. Meaning nearly the entire budget can be spent on nutritious food.

    The local community supported agriculture (CSA) farms with pick-up locations and delivery services cost about $35 per week and they say that is enough vegetables or fruit for a family of four.

    As for gas prices, if you commute as far as an hour each way, do you think you could find one or more persons at your company who lives within 5 miles of you and can do a similar schedule? You will cut your gas costs by at least half and down to 1/9th if you find enough people for a vanpool.

    July 24, 2008 at 23:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Willow, Iowa

    I've been walking more. Instead of buying expensive packaged casseroles, I've been buying brown rice, veggies (I can make a mean stir fry), and lots of fruits. Its really not more expensive to buy this way. What is expensive is the canned pastas, boxes of Poptarts, etc. Buying a large box of oatmeal, strawberries, etc. lasts a lot longer than little boxes of microwaveable oatmeals. Now that summer is here, I am eating tomatoes, peppers, onions and squash out of my garden. I plan on freezing peppers, tomatoes, and storing onions and winter squash in my basement shelves. I am thinking of buying a large burlap bag of potatoes, large bag of brown rice and whole wheat berries and a wheat grinder. I will be healthier and live a lot cheaper.

    July 26, 2008 at 00:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Jeanne

    After reading over these comments, I am thinking that the effect that economy has on the health of people will be largely dependent on their socio economic status and education. To emulate Willow's methods, one needs housing large enough for storage. To grow one's own vegetables, one needs a patch of land with sun and water access. If your are going from dining out to cooking, bravo. If you are going from cooking to walking to the nearest corner store for whatever costs less than $5.00 you're introuble. Which brings us to the second point, education. In my opinion it has a huge effect on what one does with one's money. Someone who reads Dr. Gupta's blog may opt to buy the bag or rice. Someone who'se reading is restricted to the bold print on packaging labels, might opt for King Sized Chips.
    Maybe the schools should bring back the importance of some of the skills classes, like home economics. It is not so much for the skills themselves, but to reduce the amount of emotional distancing from similar activities. If you grew up on a farm, like I did, growing your own food is second nature, but if you grew up in a city apartment, the concept may be very out of mind indeed.

    August 5, 2008 at 11:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Lauren R., USA

    The high price of gas hasn't affected me too terribly much since I lost my home and car to foreclosure back in 2001, but I do miss having the space to have a garden. Ironically, I have gained weight due to the economy as I am just too gosh darned tired to eat right after walking nearly four miles to and from work every day.

    August 5, 2008 at 14:18 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.