Researchers reported that during the latest round of hikes in the cost of gas, the number of fatal car accidents declined dramatically. Each 10 percent rise in the price of gasoline correlated with a 2.3 percent decrease in fatalities. As a result, the number of fatalities last year (41,059) was the lowest number in more than a decade.
Although part of the decline might be attributed to safer car designs and increased restrictions on young drivers, a significant portion can be attributed to higher gas prices. When gasoline became more expensive, fewer drivers took to the road, and those who did drove slower than they did previously.
Similarly, New York health officials discovered that the most effective tool to reduce smoking is increasing the cost of cigarettes. Initially, legislators increased taxes on cigarettes to fill their empty coffers; however, an unexpected side benefit occurred—smoking declined.
In both cases, what might have been considered a negative condition produced a positive result. But how will the recession affect the epidemic of people who are overweight or obese? A mixed bag of outcomes is the answer.
On the downside, the recession has reduced the number of food choices for lower-income families. Calorie-laden foods, such as potatoes, have slightly declined in price (2 percent), while the price of low-calorie and nutritious foods, such as fresh raspberries, has gone up nearly 20 percent. With a limited food budget, some families are forced to purchase cheaper foods. These cheaper foods fill empty stomachs, but they also pack on pounds. Purchasing more expensive, nutritious and lower-calorie food simply isn’t an option for lower-income families.
The upside, however, is not insignificant. Four out of ten individuals surveyed said they were eating at home more. About a third are packing their lunch for work and eating more leftovers. These statistics are positive trends since individuals tend to consume more food when eating out than when eating at home. Portions are larger in restaurants, and people tend to eat more when served more. In addition, restaurant food is generally higher in fat and calories than food prepared at home. Consider, for example, the calories in a huge slice of cheese-stuffed, double-layer pizza. Plus, individuals tend to indulge when dining out.
About a third of those surveyed also said they were ordering less food when they do go out to eat, and one in five replaced soda and noncarbonated drinks with plain tap water. These additional trends—ordering less food and replacing caloric drinks with water—could significantly reduce an individual’s daily caloric intake.
Even during these hard times, food is still a relative bargain in the United States when compared to food expenditures in other countries. The average American spends less than 10 percent of the family budget on food. This number looks good when compared to 11 percent in the United Kingdom, 17 percent in Japan, 27 percent in South Africa and 53 percent in India.
Thanks to warehouse clubs and technological advances in food distribution in the United States, the cost of delivery to and stocking of stores has kept food prices reasonable.
Of course, we have to be smart shoppers to keep our food budget in check—clipping coupons is back in style. We need to keep nutrition and health at the top of our shopping list because we don’t want simply to survive the recession. We want to come out on the other side of this economically challenging time with trim, fit, healthy and well-nourished bodies.
"The simple solution for disappointment depression: Get up and get moving. Physically move. Do. Act. Get going." Peter McWilliams, Life 101