Health Suffers When Money is Tight

Healthy behaviors in financially stressful times can head downhill

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Most individuals want to practice healthy behaviors, but everyday situations sometimes make that hard. So, how does an economic downturn like the 2008 recession affect people's behaviors?

A recent study found that people's health behaviors mostly improved after the recession – unless they had money troubles.

Those who had financial stress showed poorer health behaviors in four major areas.

Changes in work hours or employment were not linked to health behaviors in the study.

"Look after yourself in tough times."

The study, led by Jonathan T. Macy, PhD, MPH, of the Department of Applied Health Science at Indiana University School of Public Health, looked at how people's health behaviors changed during tough financial times.

The researchers used data from a long-term US study on smoking involving a large group of Midwesterners.

This study involved the responses of 3,984 participants who had provided answers to mailed and phone questionnaires in 2005 and then again in 2011.

One of the study's goals was to see if the financial recession that started in 2008 appeared to have any effect on individuals' health behaviors.

Nearly all of the mostly white participants graduated high school (half had bachelor's degrees), and about 64 percent were married. All were at least working part-time in 2005.

The researchers looked at any changes that had occurred in participants' working hours, employment status or financial stress.

Then the researchers compared these results to five different health-related behaviors:

  • Checking ingredient labels when buying food
  • Choosing meals based on how healthy the foods are
  • Frequent vigorous exercise
  • Smoking
  • Always using a seatbelt

For the most part, the participants generally improved their health behaviors from 2005 to 2011.

However, there were some changes in behaviors based on factors related to work and money.

"Those who reported changes in hours worked and employment status were more likely to check the ingredient label when buying food, choose food based on health value, and smoke on a daily basis," the researchers reported. "Those who reported more financial strain were less likely to engage in all five healthy behaviors."

Then, the researchers adjusted their analysis to account for the participants' age, sex, marital status and level of education.

After making these adjustments, changes in working hours and employment status no longer appeared to relate to changes in participants' healthy behaviors.

However, those reporting more financial strain still engaged at lower levels in all the healthy behaviors except wearing a seat belt.

"This is an important area of study because individuals who engage in healthy behaviors, despite the negative influence of an economic recession, are more likely to avoid preventable morbidity and premature mortality," the researchers wrote.

The study was published in the July issue of Social Science and Medicine. The research was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. No disclosures were noted.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 13, 2013
Last Updated:
August 7, 2013