Nav: Home

How the Great Recession weighed on children

June 02, 2016

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researchers have found that increases in unemployment in California during the Great Recession were associated with an increased risk for weight gain among the state's 1.7 million public school students, suggesting that economic troubles could have long-term health consequences for children.

The researchers, publishing online June 1 in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, say that for every one percentage point increase in county-level unemployment between the years of 2008 and 2012, the school children had a four percent increased risk of becoming overweight. The average change in unemployment over the time period was 5.4 percentage points, putting the increased risk that a child would become overweight at 21 percent.

Prior research has shown that even small changes in weight - between five and 10 percent - in children and adolescents can increase the risk of developing chronic diseases in the future.

"This study tells a dramatic story about the negative and lasting health effects of an economic shock like the Great Recession, effects that have not been fully understood," says study leader Vanessa M. Oddo, MPH, a PhD candidate in human nutrition at the Bloomberg School. "Childhood obesity is one of the biggest public health concerns of our time. And since it's not easy to lose weight once it is gained, this period of economic hardship could have consequences that last long into adulthood."

For the study, Oddo and her colleagues analyzed data from the California Department of Education, which collected height and weight measurements for children enrolled in fifth, seventh and ninth grade at public schools in the state's 58 counties. They focused on the 1.7 million children aged seven through 18 who had at least two measurements so that they could compare an individual's weight against his or her previous measures. The researchers compared their results to county-level unemployment estimates obtained from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In 2008, just as the recession was beginning, 28 percent of the children in the state's public schools were considered overweight. While the percentage of overweight children peaked at 40 percent in 2009, it slipped but was still at 37 percent in 2012.

"Unemployment not only impacts adults," Oddo says. "Children are impacted and it's not something we really talk about."

While the researchers found a link between increases in unemployment and an increased risk that a child would be overweight, they can only speculate about the reasons behind their findings. They believe that in times of belt-tightening, families may have changed their food purchasing habits or school districts could have cut back on sports leagues or after-school activities promoting exercise.

"We think they likely gained weight because with decreased economic resources, families may be trading more expensive healthy food like fresh fruits and vegetables for cheaper, higher calorie alternatives such as highly processed convenience food," says the study's senior author Jessica C. Jones-Smith, PhD, MPH, an assistant professor in the Department of International Health at the Bloomberg School. "The stuff that is convenient and tasty is also high in calories and may be the kind of food people turn to in these economically constrained times."

The researchers say that their findings highlight the importance of keeping in place social safety nets such as liberal unemployment benefits, food stamps and school breakfast and lunch programs during economic downturns.

"It is critical that policy makers understand that economic shocks do have implications for the health of children and take steps to mitigate the negative consequences that recessions can have on the young," Oddo says.
"The Impact of Changing Economic Conditions on Overweight Risk Among Children in California from 2008-2012" was written by Vanessa M. Oddo, Lauren Hersch Nicholas, Sara N. Bleich and Jessica C. Jones-Smith.

The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health's Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (4R00HD073327); the National Institute on Aging (K01AG041763); and the Joint High Performance Computing Exchange in the Department of Biostatistics and the Global Obesity Prevention Center at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, which is funded by the NICHD (U54HD070725) and the Office of the Director of NIH.

Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health

Related Weight Gain Articles:

Study examines timing of weight gain in children
Recent studies suggest kids tend to gain the most weight in summer, but schools are chastised for providing unhealthy food and beverages, along with decreasing opportunities for physical activity.
New study shows why people gain weight as they get older
Many people struggle to keep their weight in check as they get older.
Being teased about weight linked to more weight gain among children, NIH study suggests
Youth who said they were teased or ridiculed about their weight increased their body mass by 33 percent more each year, compared to a similar group who had not been teased, according to researchers at the National Institutes of Health.
Daily self-weighing can prevent holiday weight gain
Researchers at the University of Georgia have shown that a simple intervention -- daily self-weighing -- can help people avoid holiday weight gain.
Association between weight before pregnancy, weight gain during pregnancy and adverse outcomes for mother, infant
An analysis that combined the results of 25 studies including nearly 197,000 women suggests prepregnancy body mass index (BMI) of the mother was more strongly associated with risk of adverse maternal and infant outcomes than the amount of gestational weight gain.
Comfort food leads to more weight gain during stress
Australian researchers have discovered a new molecular pathway in the brain that triggers more weight gain in times of stress.
Women gain weight when job demands are high
Heavy pressures at work seem to predispose women to weight gain, irrespective of whether they have received an academic education.
Mannose's unexpected effects on the microbiome and weight gain
Scientists continue to unravel links between body weight and the gut microbiome.
How sleep loss may contribute to adverse weight gain
In a new study, researchers at Uppsala University now demonstrate that one night of sleep loss has a tissue-specific impact on the regulation of gene expression and metabolism in humans.
Why is it harder for females to gain weight?
Why is it harder for females to gain weight? A new study proposes that part of the answer may be in the brain.
More Weight Gain News and Weight Gain Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

In & Out Of Love
We think of love as a mysterious, unknowable force. Something that happens to us. But what if we could control it? This hour, TED speakers on whether we can decide to fall in — and out of — love. Guests include writer Mandy Len Catron, biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, musician Dessa, One Love CEO Katie Hood, and psychologist Guy Winch.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#543 Give a Nerd a Gift
Yup, you guessed it... it's Science for the People's annual holiday episode that helps you figure out what sciency books and gifts to get that special nerd on your list. Or maybe you're looking to build up your reading list for the holiday break and a geeky Christmas sweater to wear to an upcoming party. Returning are pop-science power-readers John Dupuis and Joanne Manaster to dish on the best science books they read this past year. And Rachelle Saunders and Bethany Brookshire squee in delight over some truly delightful science-themed non-book objects for those whose bookshelves are already full. Since...
Now Playing: Radiolab

An Announcement from Radiolab