Over-Indebted Germans More Prone to Obesity?

The link between lower socioeconomic status and obesity has been well documented (at least for Western women). While this is often attributed to the increased expense of healthy foods, it may well be that increased psychosocial stressors including food insecurity, low-walkability neighbourhoods, higher density of fast-food outlets, anxiety, depression and other mental health problems also contribute.

A new study by Eva Münster and colleagues from the University of Mainz, Germany, just published in BMC Public Health suggests that over-indebtedness may be a further factor in promoting weight gain. Over-indebtedness can be defined as lack of possible debt redemption in due time due to the relation of income and cost of living even after a remarkable cutback in standard of living.

Münster and colleagues examined data from a cross-sectional study on over-indebtedness and health including 949 over-indebted subjects from 2006 and 2007 and an independent representative telephone health survey of 8318 subjects.

After adjusting for socio-economic (age, sex, education, income) and health factors (depression, smoking), the over-indebted individuals were almost twice as llikely to be overweight and almost 2.5-times as likely to be obese than non-over-indebted individuals.

It is estimated that, as a result of the recent financial turmoil, about 3 million German households (7.6 %) corresponding to more than 6 million residents are currently over-indebted.

In their discussion, the authors focus heavily on the possible contribution of the expense of healthy foods, although they do acknoweldge the fact that at times of financial distress, individuals may be more preoccupied with issues other than living healthy lifestyles.

I would further suggest that the very same psychosocial behaviours that promote over-indebtness (risk-taking, impulsiveness, poor-planning, etc.) may also promote weight gain, especially in our current obesogenic environment.

At least the study suggests that there is little reason to assume that financial distress will result in people eating less – if at all, the opposite appears true.

Edmonton, Alberta