The Health Risks of Being Unemployed

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — There’s no doubt that unemployment can have a negative impact on your bank account, but several studies in recent years have shown it could hurt your health as well.

For starters, regions in the U.S. with particularly high unemployment rates tend to have more unhealthy eaters, according to a new paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The report, which is based largely on data that the Centers for Disease Control collected in a phone survey, found that for every 1% the unemployment rate increases in a given state, residents consume an average of 2%-8% fewer fruits and vegetables. Moreover, residents in these states tend to eat more fast food as the unemployment rate ticks up.

This might sound like a small problem, but if you consider the fact that the unemployment rate in states like Michigan increased by about 5% during the recession years, it implies that residents there reduced their consumption of healthy foods by as much as a third.

According to the researchers behind this study, the shift to a less healthy lifestyle is due primarily to “reduced family income and adverse mental health.”

Indeed, these factors have been found to cause additional health risks beyond dietary problems.

One study this year from Harvard found that blue-collar workers who have been fired or laid off are more than twice as likely to report being in "fair or bad" health than their employed counterparts.

To make matters worse, this same study found that workers who have experienced unemployment are also more likely to have stress-related illnesses once they find work again, showing that the mental strains of being out of work can linger for some time after being re-employed.

Other studies and surveys have found that the unemployed are more likely to suffer mental illnesses like depression and that they generally take longer to recover from illnesses.

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