The Downturn Diet

Appleyard reports on the recession's silver lining:

The strange thing is that people get healthier in a recession, according to Chris Ruhm, an economics professor at the University of North Carolina. Some years ago he decided to test the conventional wisdom that hard times make people sick. He found the opposite.

“People get physically healthier and mortality rates fall during bad economic times,” he tells me. “It’s the opposite of what I expected to find.”

Studying recessions since the 1970s, Ruhm found that traffic deaths fell noticeably, probably because of a combination of less drink consumed and fewer miles driven. Even deaths from heart attacks, strokes, flu and pneumonia fell.

Out of work and not eating out, people lose weight; and they tend to find something more active to do than sitting in front of a computer screen. Also, of course, they can’t afford to smoke and drink as much. “When times are hard, they control the things they can control – they live healthily.”

On the other hand, Ruhm found a recessionary decline in mental wellbeing. Suicide, anxiety and depression all increase as GDP falls.