It’s hard to look anywhere without finding some dismal statistic about the weight problems prevalent in our society. The 2011-2012 CDC statistics for the rate of obesity in Americans found that 35% of adults were obese; the 2009-2010 statistics found that 18% of children above 6 were obese, too.[i] It’s considered such a problem that First Lady Michelle Obama has developed a campaign to address the prevalence of childhood obesity. We are bombarded with information like this and told that we must, simply must, change for the sake of our health, yet still there’s only been modest improvement in the numbers. A 2007 study in Australia found that although people trying to change their diet usually undertook that change, only 26% of those people were sticking to it rigidly six months in.[ii] Even when faced with the life-or-death decision to change one’s diet following a heart attack or stroke, in a 2013 study only 39% of patients reported eating healthier food after such a life-shattering event.[iii] Why is it so hard to maintain healthy eating habits, even in the face of so much societal pressure and personal incentive to do so?
Two of the biggest problems facing America today are unemployment and obesity – two seemingly unrelated but equally serious issues. After some of the most difficult economic times since the 1930s, America’s unemployment levels peaked at almost 10% in 2009, leveling out to around 6.3% today. Obesity, likewise, has more than doubled for both adults and children in the US since the 1970s, with around 69% of adults being overweight or obese, and 35% being obese. More and more studies, however, are investigating the link between unemployment and obesity and as results start to flood in, it seems that they are not as unrelated as they seemed.
Studies are starting to show that there is a significant link between unemployment and obesity, especially amongst unskilled workers who are struggling to find work. In fact, a Gallup study suggests that if you are between 18 and 44 and unemployed, you are 30% more likely to be obese than your counterparts in full-time employment. High-skilled workers, who may have had sedentary jobs that led them to develop their own fitness plan are more likely to continue exercising and may have savings to help them to eat healthy after losing employment. Low-skilled workers, alternatively, tend to work physical jobs and use that to burn calories. When the job is lost, their only form of exercise goes with it, and it can be difficult to get out of a cycle of watching TV and eating junk food. Of course, these are sweeping generalisations but the statistics are hard to ignore.