The Elusive Link Between Poverty and Obesity

A third factor may be a likely catalyst for both.
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(Photo: Lightspring/Shutterstock)

(Photo: Lightspring/Shutterstock)

Is obesity a cause or an effect of financial hardship?

Social scientists have long seen this as a chicken-and-egg question. But a study in the journal Economics and Human Biology suggests a third factor, or set of factors, is a likely catalyst for both outcomes.

Impulsivity—a trait that can make it difficult to resist both caloric foods and costly merchandise—is one possible commonality.

Lafayette College economist Susan Averett examined data from Add Health, a nationally representative study of American adolescents that followed them into young adulthood. She found a correlation but no “causal relationship” between credit card debt and obesity, and concludes the link is probably the result of factors not picked up in the data.

Impulsivity—a trait that can make it difficult to resist both caloric foods and costly merchandise—is one possible commonality.

However, Averett did find “suggestive evidence” that having trouble paying bills may lead to obesity in women. Junk food, after all, is inexpensive. And when you’re not sure how you’re going to both pay the rent and keep the lights on, a high-fat snack may be a reflexive source of momentary comfort.

This post originally appeared in the May/June 2014 issue ofPacific Standardas “The Elusive Link Between Poverty and Obesity.” For more, subscribe to our print magazine.

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