3 ways weight and debt are connected

Lean financial times don’t necessarily lead to tighter belts. Here’s how your expanding waistline is related to your shrinking bank account

3 ways weight and debt are connected

Source: Adapted from HealthSmart, June/July, 2009

Part-time administrative assistant Claudine Bakker is feeling disheartened. For years, the mother of two has been trying to get her weight under control, but to no avail. Instead, she’s put on about four lbs each year and is now 22 lbs over her ideal weight.

Equally frustrating is her other constant struggle: to rein in her debts. A personal loan is taking forever to revert to zero, and as for her credit card balance… Why can’t she get on top of either?

Jay Zagorsky, a research scientist at Ohio State University, believes he has the answer. After an in-depth, 15-year study involving more than 7000 people, his research team uncovered a significant connection between the state of our weight and the state of our finances.

Specifically, Zagorsky’s team found that as individuals became successful at bringing down their weight, their net worth got a hefty boost. In the study, women who dropped ten Body Mass Index (BMI) points, for example, saw their assets jump by more than $11,000 US.

‘Saving and dieting involve many of the same concepts,’ says Zagorsky. Here’s how the two are related.

1.    Smart decisions govern diet and budget

It’s a simple idea and one that Peter Walsh, author of Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat? (Simon & Schuster, $11.68), sees in action. He’s helped thousands of people streamline their homes and shift their attitudes about consumption, weight loss and debt in the process.

‘Nobody gains weight because there’s a chocolate bar or a hamburger in front of them,’ says Walsh. ‘You gain weight ‘ and debt and clutter ‘ because of decisions over eating and spending. Your home, head, heart and hips are all interconnected. It’s all about the decisions you make.’

2. Consumption means instant gratification

Our consumer culture doesn’t encourage us to wait (or say no) to anything, so perhaps it’s no coincidence that countries with high obesity levels typically also boast booming debt levels.

From the 1970s until 2000, the obesity rate in the U.S. increased by more than 110%, while the personal savings rate fell by 83%. Along with countries such as Finland and Spain, the U.S. now has one of the highest obesity and lowest savings rates in the world.

Sadly, Canada follows closely behind. According to Statistics Canada, 42% of Canadian women are overweight. As well, most of us are firmly in the red financially. The debt load for Canadian families rose 38% between 1999 and 2005.

3. Spending and eating offer a quick fix

Unlike in times past when cooking took effort and high-fat foods were a small part of the menu, all manner of tempting eats are now cheap and instantly available. And by comparison, it takes effort to resist temptation.

Dr. Rick Kausman, author of If Not Dieting, Then What? (Allen & Unwin, $29.95), notes, ‘Nowadays, people are all about a ‘quick fix’, yet sustained effort is the only way to lose weight.’

Walsh agrees. ‘To effect a change in your habits, you need to make the easiest option the best option. If you walk in the door starving and you haven’t stocked the fridge, then you’re more likely to eat takeaway.’

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