Beware Fruits, Veggies?

Time in ’09:

Christopher Ruhm … examined statewide mortality fluctuations in the U.S. between 1972 and 1991 and found that a 1% rise in a state’s unemployment rate led to a 0.6% decrease in total mortality. … In a review of such studies … Stephen Bezruchka … suggests the results could be explained by declines in smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and overeating during recessions as people look for ways to save money.

NBER today:

A higher risk of unemployment is associated with reduced consumption of fruits and vegetables and increased consumption of “unhealthy” foods such as snacks and fast food. … Among individuals predicted to be at highest risk of being unemployed, a one percentage point increase in the resident state’s unemployment rate is associated with … a 2-4% reduction in the frequency of fruits and vegetables consumption, and an 8% reduction in the consumption of salad.

Either we can cross “eat healthier” off the list of possible ways unemployment helps health, or maybe fruits and veggies aren’t as healthy, and fast food as unhealthy, as we suppose.

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  • RJB

    I guess I’ll just assume your conclusion is snark.

  • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

    I don’t think it’s hard to see how both studies can track together, supporting a conclusion that overall many people consume healthier with less available income -due to impulse control problems being more salient than the high cost of healthier foods.

  • http://www.gwern.net/ gwern

    Obvious reconciliation of our intuitions and these results: the second study didn’t track alcohol or tobacco consumption, and the untracked but enormous plunge in their consumption more than offset the smaller plunge in fruits & veggies.

    (Consistent with the NBER abstract, but I don’t care enough to pay $5 to download and see whether the vices were included under ‘snacks’ or something.)

    • burger flipper

      I’m guessing you missed the posts suggesting there’s no link between smoking and mortality.

      I adjusted my confidence in RH’s more “contrarian” views significantly because of them, but this one does seem interesting.

  • http://www.freedomofink.com Ray

    I’m sure there’s a similar study out there showing how football causes colder weather to come.

  • Captain Oblivious

    Darn, and I was hoping there was some good scientific reason not to eat my veggies… I was all set to forward a link to my mom and say “See? I told you I’d die if you made me eat any more vegetables!”

    That would be the best study since the one that showed drinking is good for you!

  • http://don.geddis.org/ Don Geddis

    One likely explanation: people who need to save money probably wind up eating fewer calories, and calorie restrictions are well known to increase lifespan (and thus reduce mortality).

  • http://yudkowsky.net/ Eliezer Yudkowsky

    Maybe work is really bad for you.

    • http://www.freedomofink.com Ray

      I’ve read some things that would support that.

      Not so much work itself, but the stress of not being in control.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if we would find that those that are genuinely happier in their work are healthier overall than those who are typically dissatisfied.

      From the scattered things I’ve read I got the impression though that it would be better to be a small business owner with a modest income than to have twice the income, but work for a tyrant.

    • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

      Driving to work is dangerous. I miss it though.

      Dennis Mangan says vegetables are poisonous. He believes a variety of other strange things. So does Nikolas Lloyd.

  • MattW

    Kind of a repeat of what Don Geddis said, there was a guy who stayed on a pretty strict diet of Little Debbie snacks, and his only limit was the number of calories per day. His health improved.

    So rather than beware fruits/vegetables, beware high calorie intake.

    • mjgeddes

      “Twinkie diet helps nutrition professor lose 27 pounds”

  • http://un-thought.blogspot.com/ Floccina

    IMO driving to work is dangerous, working is dangerous and eating veggies makes no difference in health.

  • nw3

    Hi Robin. With respect to your first observation, eating less is fasting, which since antiquity is known to generate health benefits in moderation. Today we can add the qualifier fasting adds benefits if all nutritional needs are met or supplemented.

    As far as the observation regarding fruits and vegetables, I offer three possible reasons, the last of which is a reach:

    1. people most likely to be unemployed are stressed and unhealthy food is comfort food

    2. people in cyclical jobs are likely to be lower income and lower income populations (“prole”) have poorer diets than higher income populations (“SWPL”).

    3. in times of uncertainty people want to fit in since outsiders and outliers are more obvious candidates to be culled. If you don’t stand out, then there is no obvious way to sort you for firing. If the group eats unhealthy, you don’t want to be seen with a Whole Foods bag.

  • Random Student

    … or, even more likely these two studies are data-mining bullshit.

  • apk

    has it not occured that this may simply be a result of less work related fatalities?

    if you’re not working on a building site you can’t fall to your death from the scaffolding can you?

  • Jack

    Or the gain from less alcohol and tobacco outweighs the loss of from fewer fruits and vegetables- a hypothesis which is extremely plausible given what we know about the health risks of both those things. Is there anyone who thinks if they start smoking and drinking they can compensate by eating more apples and carrots?

  • Rachel

    I suggest people here look more into Ruhm’s work in the area. He has done a lot of quality work on the topic of health in recessions and it s very interesting. In other papers he has demonstrated significant decreases in smoking, drinking and increases in exercise during recessions.

    • Michael Turner

      “… significant decreases in smoking, *drinking* and increases in exercise during recessions.”

      In the working-age population, accidents take relatively high toll, perhaps being the leading cause of death. If, because you don’t have a job, you’re not driving to work (or driving home from a TGIF happy hour after work), you’re not as likely to have a traffic accident. If you don’t have a job, you can’t have a job-related accident. And if unemployed people are drinking less when they do drive, well …. alcohol is a major factor in car accidents, as well as accidents in the home.

      Finally, if unemployed and you’re stuck at home with an aging parent when that parent has some health crisis, the parent’s chances of survival undoubtedly improve.

  • Robert Wiblin

    In addition to the criticisms above, smoking and alcohol may kill you in the short run (before retirement age) while eating less fruit/veggies takes years to significantly increase your mortality. I would think this was the standard prediction.

  • Dave

    It is very difficult to show statistically that life style change decreases death rate. For instance prospective studies of cholesterol lowering lowering by diet finally succeeded in showing that cardiovascular disease was reduced but the death rate remained the same. Now using satins on healthy populations the death rate has not been reduced. These are prospective studies,the best kind.

    With this in mind,combining the two separate retrospective studies such as the ones mentioned will generate hypotheses that are entertaining or humorous at best.

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  • Matt Flipago

    It’s probably fruits and vegetables aren’t as healthy as we think, especially salads.
    Also if your actually poor, you don’t eat cakes and burgers, you eat rice and beans. That’s why they are better. McDonalds isn’t cheap, paying 5 bucks a meal is a lot for a lot of people i know.

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