Debt and Obesity Are Related, Study Finds

Debt leads to depression. Depression leads to over-eating. Over-eating, simply put, usually causes obesity. These factors alone explain the relationship of how being over-indebted can be directly related to an individual being overweight, or worse, obese. In a landmark study conducted by Dr. Eva Mϋnster of the University of Mainz in Mainz, Germany, it was found that there is a clear connection between the two phenomena.

To reach her conclusions, Mϋnster collected data from 949 participants who were known to be over-indebted. She compared this set of data to the one she received from another survey, which measured the level of obesity in 8,319 mostly debt-free individuals representative of the German population. The study was conducted by viewing both groups’ statistics, which were measured in the same areas; socio-economic status, education, income, age, sex, and health factors such as weight (Body Mass Index), smoking and depression.

Let’s Look At The Facts:

Study participants who were debt-free were only 20% overweight while those facing heavy debt were double that, at 40% overweight. Some argue that certain parameters (education, age, income, etc) can influence this correlation, however the study clearly shows that the relationship between indebtedness and obesity exists even if these parameters are factored in. In other words, among people of the same education, income level and age, those that are over-indebted will have higher chances of being overweight.

Debt and depression are linked, as is depression and overeating. A number of studies have been conducted proving that people tend toward obesity, directly proportionate to their bout of depression.

Why Are Obesity and Debt Related?

Debt and obesity can be connected on two different levels. First, when a person is in debt and they are down, depressed and feeling hopeless, they tend to turn to food to compensate for the lost enjoyment in face of their turmoil. In addition, people who are in debt find it hard to support a healthy nutrition lifestyle. Incidentally, the healthier the food usually the more expensive it is.

This inverse relationship is largely the speculated cause for the debt/obesity connection since financially-strained people will opt for quick, simple, filling and affordable food choices. A candy bar will pack a lot of caloric density and leave the individual feeling full while satiating their hunger. The same volume of a healthy food, such as a salad, will not satisfy in the same way and will cost significantly more.

But excessive food consumption and low quality diet are not the only factors that can potentially interpret the association between obesity and debt. Dr Muster says: “Over-indebtedness affects a series of risk factors for chronic diseases such as leisure time activities as well as participation in social activities”. Over-indebted people tend to live a more sedentary lifestyle.

Do These Findings Apply Universally?

There’s no reason why the people in Germany are any different from those in other similar countries sharing the same type of demographics and economic circumstances. A developed country, Germany is experiencing the very same economic crises that are occurring throughout the world over in other developed countries.

How Valid Is This Study?

Published in the respected online medical journal BioMed Central, though the study garnered ample attention and some scrutiny – its validity is documented. Dr. Emanuela Taioli practices medicine at the SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York. Her perspective centers on the fact that Americans have far greater access to less-expensive, unhealthy food – pointing them toward a permanent lifestyle of obesity. A fact that, she says, further corroborates the study.

Debt and Obesity: The Bottom Line

The current global financial crisis has hit across the board with very few exceptions. While some social and cultural aspects may vary from one country to the next, the overall condition of debt/depression/obesity is a universal occurrence.

Those people who are in debt are overweight and obese twice as much as those who are free of financial burdens. In Germany, the number is 20%/40%. In the United States the figures are extrapolated based on current obesity statistics and are 30%/60%. This staggering finding points to a bleak health outlook for many in light of the current global financial status.

By the same token, and equally as significant, the number of overweight people is spiraling toward a life of debt and financial hardship.

What Others Are Saying

Here is what a friend of mine shared when I told her about this study:

“I think being in debt influences many things, such as what you eat and where you live. When you live in communities of lower socio-economic status you do not have access to things like Farmer’s Markets, Whole Foods, and places that offer healthy convenience food. I know first hand as I am a living proof of that. For 3 years, I worked and lived in an area that was high on the socio-economic scale. I had easy access to a co-op market that stocked fresh organic veggies and fruit, and this made it easier for me to access these items and practice healthy eating habits. What’s more, I was earning a salary similar to the one that people who lived in that area were earning. This allowed me to be able to afford the foods. To me, it all comes down to what and how much you can afford and what you are surrounded by…including people and geographic areas. Put yourself in an area where people are obese… and you will gain 10-20 pounds…surround yourself with people who are healthy and live in healthy locations, and it will be easier to lose weight. I lost 35 pounds in 6 months from this.”

Brandon, a former financial consultant, recently told me:

“I think that there is an apparent link between overweight people and the way they manage their money. My intention is not to be rude but when I was a financial consultant for a some years, I would notice this almost every day. On average, individuals that were highly indebted seemed to be more overweight. Perhaps it’s attitude….who knows. I just know what I was seeing out there.”

What Do You Think About It?

So, what’s your opinion about all this? Do you believe that “the more you owe the more you weigh”? Do you acknowledge the link between over-indebtedness and obesity? If yes, what causes which? Is it debt that increases the risk of gaining weight (due to depression, poor diet choices, etc) or is it the very fact of being overweight that may increase one’s chances of getting in debt (due to social discrimination, negative body image, psychological barriers, etc)?
About The Author

With a penchant for nutrition, diet and weight loss-related topics, Matthew Constantin is a research scientist who remains in the forefront of the latest trends and news centered on his favorite subjects. He often writes about weight loss programs, including a Medifast promo discount and a discount for Diet to Go, two healthy diet plans.


1. Over-indebtedness as a marker of socioeconomic status and its association with obesity: a cross-sectional study. Münster E, and colleagues. BMC Public Health. 2009 Aug 7;9:286.

2. Associations of behavioral, psychosocial and socioeconomic factors with over- and underweight among German adolescents. Mikolajczyk RT, and colleagues. Int J Public Health. 2008;53(4):214-20.

3. abcNEWS/Health

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