NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Does Unemployment Lead to Less Healthy Diets?

December 29, 2010

A new National Bureau of Economic Research paper suggests that increases in unemployment lead to a decrease in fruit and vegetable consumption, with potentially long-lived effects on workers' health.

Researchers Dhaval Dave of Bentley University in Waltham, Mass., and Inas Rashad Kelly of Queens College in Flushing, N.Y. found:

  • Among those who are predicted to be at the highest risk of unemployment, a one percentage point increase in the resident's state unemployment rate is associated with a 2 percent to 4 percent reduction in the frequency of fruits and vegetable consumption
  • The same one percentage point increase also leads to an 8 percent reduction in salad consumption.

The research relies on the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a telephone survey in which 350,000 Americans are interviewed each year, and compares communities with different unemployment rates between 1990 and 2007, before the last recession began.

Other research yields different results about the impact of unemployment on health and behavior. Another recent NBER study, by Xin Xu and Robert Kaestner, finds:

  • The more hours people work and the higher their wages, they more cigarettes they smoke.
  • Work by Christopher Ruhm concludes that recessions are good for one's health; he finds that during good times, there are more fatal auto accidents and more deaths from disease -- though fewer suicides.
  • However, research by Daniel Sullivan and Till von Wachter finds that mortality rates in the year following a layoff among high-seniority male workers increase sharply.

Source:  David Wessel, "Does Unemployment Lead to Less Healthy Diets?" Wall Street Journal, December 28, 2010, and Dhaval Dave and Inas Rashad Kelly, "Does the Business Cycle Affect Eating Habits?" National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper 16638, December 2010.

For WSJ article:

For studies:


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