Being in Debt Doubles Your Risk of Being Overweight

The likelihood of being overweight or obese doubled with increasing indebtedness, an association that could not be explained by other socioeconomic or medical factors, according to an article published online in the journal BMC Public Health.

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Adam Baker, mid-twenties, boldly exposes his dual battle with debt and weight by openly blogging all about it. I was first drawn to Baker’s blog because he and his family recently moved to New Zealand. (My husband and I spent about a month in New Zealand and considered moving there, too.) But now, I also read Baker’s blog because I want to understand what makes his generation tick, particularly when it comes to thoughts and choices made about money.

Today, Baker asked his readers, “would you rather be fat or in debt”?

I am puzzled by Baker’s question. Here’s the comment I left on his post:

I can’t pick one option over the other because I choose neither. I can’t comprehend why I’d want to pick one because “neither” is a realistic answer. I’m stumbling over WHY you feel you need to pick one to be more important over the other, Baker. I think it’s okay to want to be fit AND debt-free. Maybe I missed something between the lines of your post.

May I suggest that rather than waiting until after you lose weight to do the kick-ass things you want to do, do them now. Live your life as though you are thin, fit and healthy and your body will catch up. Don’t look at this as a weight-loss diet. Look at this as your forever lifestyle choice. Otherwise you will bounce back and forth between fat and not, fat and not. AND THE SAME GOES WITH YOUR DEBT ISSUES!

Sorry to shout that last sentence.

You are courageous, open and honest and this is a huge start to something great. Many sweep these issues under the rug… and they stay there, festering. Keep your eye on how you want to live your life and you will live it!

I am not being insensitive, just curious. I wonder why indebtedness increases one’s odds of being overweight. What is the common thread between the two?

My weight has always been within the ideal range for my height and frame size. I’ve been mulling this topic over today and I’ve realized that I maintain my healthy weight in much the same way that I maintain my finances.

  • I identify and visualize what I want. I think healthy and rich thoughts so I am more likely to behave accordingly. Thoughts affect actions, actions affect outcome.
  • I take inventory on a regular basis. I weigh my net worth, spending and eating choices, and body.
  • I am mindful of and replenish my limited daily supply of self-control.
  • I avoid temptation: I grocery shop after I’ve eaten with a list in hand, I don’t hang out at the mall, I don’t look through catalogs or surf ebay.
  • I am willing to trade short term instant gratification for long-lasting, kick-ass benefits.
  • I search for and enjoy substitutes: Think baked sweet potato wedges drizzled with olive oil, dusted with cinnamon, and broiled until edges are crispy– rather than greasy McDonald’s french fries. Or think world travel, month-long vacations, picnics and delicious organic foods instead of fancy new cars, expensive restaurants, and closets full of clothes I’ll never wear.

Why and how do you think weight and money management outcomes are correlated?

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17 thoughts on “Being in Debt Doubles Your Risk of Being Overweight”

  1. I’ve assumed that debt means all debt – including the home mortgage and investment related borrowings and is not limited to junk consumer debt (of which I have none).

    There have been studies which show correlation between net worth and healthy generally. IIRC, the correlation was not wholly explained by a combination of access to medical care leaving an open question as to the other causes.

    Like you, I fail to see why this is an “either – or” question. I’d rather have good body weight AND good finances and utterly fail to see why anyone would have to choose between the two.

  2. Jen,

    Thanks so much for the mention. I’m glad we’ve both been able to stir up some thoughts and I’m looking forward to seeing the results of your poll after a day or two! :-)

    I think the biggest hurdle to overcome was the title of my post. I was playing a ‘lesser of two evils’ game. Obviously, the ability to yell “NEITHER” as load as we can, is what we all strive for. And it certainly IS attainable to tackle both.

    That being said, I obviously *have* prioritized one over the other. I think a lot of people do that, whether they admit it or not. I’ve been super-passionate about my finances for the past two years, but have been o.k. just ignoring my health. The deep reason? I’m not exactly sure!

    So I don’t mean to suggest you only need one or that it’s beneficial to only pursue one with my title. The title was simply meant to pit the two lifestyle issues against each other. Rather than default to the NEITHER we all know is obvious, I wanted to generate some reflection on the issue. As you can see from your comment (jen) and others, there has been a wide variety of answers and approaches.

    I think your tips are a great correlation between money and finances. It’s no surprise why you’ve always been at healthy weight and are now living independent and abundant in your financial life. I’m hoping by working on some of these issues out in the open now, I’ll be in your shoes in the coming years!

    Thanks again for the support! Great, great discussion.

  3. Laziness and lack of self control. Plain and simple, they are major contributors both problems.

  4. Disagreeing with post #2, I think its bigger than laziness and self-control. Thats kinda a contrite way of looking at the issue. A lot of it probably has a lot of has to do with mind-set, maybe somewhat genetics. We learn our habits from our families. When we choose to accept that lesson varies. A lot of us have to learn that we dont have to be the same way as our parents. I’ve followed Baker’s blog for a bit, and I think this is just another facet of making his life transparent to the rest of us AND creating a motivating and accountability factor for himself. I could be overstepping my bounds here, but I think adding the fitness part to his war on debt, is just his way of learning how to manage his life the way he wants it. Other PF bloggers have done, JD @ often talks about his pursuit of physical fitness and how when he was in debt, he was not as physcially fit, nor did he “want” to pursue it as much as he did as he when he started getting out of debt.

    Like I said, I think that once we begin to change one part of our lives, we begin to examine all parts and how we can make them better.

    You are right though, neither should have been an option :)

  5. I agree with Adrianne’s comment and I want to add that when you don’t feel good about your circumstances, such as you’re sinking deeper into debt, you feel unmotivated. Many people who are unhappy with their lives are already predisposed to indulging in something, whether it’s food or drugs or alcohol. So building up the courage to change your life, whether it’s getting out of debt, loosing weight, or both, takes a lot of work and tenacity.

    His question seems a little black and white, but it might be how he’s looking at change, one step at a time change.

    Just a thought-
    Little House

  6. I had a blog last year that addressed these two issues called The Forty Project. I ended up focusing mainly on the weight loss aspect of things, and then starting a new blog altogether at the new year that only focused on health and fitness and attempt to lose weight. I’m always having to refocus on my goals, picking myself up from mistakes, etc. Though I don’t really talk about it in my blog anymore, the money issue is still as big for me as the weight loss is, a constant struggle to keep my head above water. I’ve made some small positive changes in dealing with my finances but it remains difficult.
    I do find the correlation between the two issues very interesting! I have always seen the parallels in my own life and wonder if I could just fix one, would the other fall into place, too? I haven’t found the answer to that yet, but I do really enjoy reading your blog and often find that I am reminding myself about delayed gratification and living beneath my means… thanks to you.
    Surprisingly, I kind of agree with Traciatim’s comment. I know at least for me, it is part laziness and part lack of control at times. But I also think there are a lot of underlying issues, too — it’s been more than once that I’ve seriously thought that seeing a therapist to sort it out wouldn’t be a bad idea. I’m the only child of two people who are each GREAT with money management, and it’s always been a puzzle to me how I managed to turn out the way I did — from the time I went away to college, just horrible with money.
    I will definitely check out Baker’s blog. Thanks for this thought-provoking post!

  7. I would rather be neither, but what comes to mind regarding both physical circumstances and financial is a personal value system. In both situations, there can be lack of choice – medical debt is not a choice, and carrying excessive weight can come from a medical condition such as a cantaloupe-sized cyst. But when there is choice, I have observed that in general, people who value their bodies also value their possessions and money. They are extensions of self. I noticed this many years ago when I observed that certain acquaintances of mine were noticeably loose with both their wallets and their bodies, and vice versa.

  8. Well, I just have to comment… I grew up in an alcoholic family, with an alcoholic mother, who was probably also mentally ill. This is probably an extreme example, but I know for myself, just surviving took all I had. I don’t think I represent the norm… but I do know that I never learned anything about delaying gratification. Not to make excuses, but living with a seriously mentally ill parent could cause one to be stuck at the survival level of existence. I believe I have come a long way… but I have struggled a lot with different manifestations of non-delayed gratification. I don’t think it’s ever too late. I am learning now, and I am proud of myself, and learning to live a happy and productive life. I am overweight, but I’m losing, and I have been in debt, but I’m not right now. I should say, I have a low level of debt that is unsecured, as well as some secured (car, mortgage) but I am learning to think before spending, as well as learning to think before eating. Mindfulness makes a big difference. Jen, your blog is very inspiring. I have a long way to go but I definitely think it is doable. Thanks, Gail

  9. @Baker, it’s an interesting correlation. While I suspect that similar habits have something to do with both outcomes, I also know firsthand that intense, passionate focus on the issue de jour can mean success in one area and neglect in the other. You’ve been focused on reducing your debt; now you are focusing on your health. Knock ’em down one at a time, or chisel at ’em simultaneously. Either way, it’ll get done. You’re obviously motivated enough.

    My unsolicited advice? Just make sure you adopt lifelong LIFESTYLE changes rather than temporary debt consolidation programs and diets. Otherwise you’re likely to yo-yo.

  10. @Gail, I grew up in a dysfunctional family, too, were delayed gratification was rarely modeled. In an effort to make sense of my chaotic world, I developed some habits that proved helpful. It sounds like you are committed to moving past your upbringing. Kudos to you!

  11. I had always thought it might be because healthy, non-processed food costs more than processed food loaded with fat and high fructose corn syrup. Thus, it would be cheaper for someone with money-management problems to buy the obesity inducing foods. But feeling depressed and running out of willpower probably could play a role in it too as mentioned above.

    PS – saw your tweet MMND, but doubt you could see a reply from me. Have you ever considered Bali as an interesting place to spend a few months? It’s very interesting, culturally, and the cost of living there is cheap unless you only spend time in tourist bars. If you can find a cheaper rental apartment, and go outside the normal tourist traps, Singapore is also very affordable – both places have many english speakers.

  12. @yc, the study I referenced found “an association that could not be explained by other socioeconomic or medical factors” which I suppose means it doesn’t matter that processed crap food costs less. Interesting. I know that we spend considerably more at the grocery store than the average family because we buy only organic (plus local products) whenever possible. Of course eating healthy doesn’t require organic or local — it just takes it to the next level.

    Thanks for your response to my tweet soliciting suggestions for an interesting, warm place to spend 1-3 months this winter. I didn’t see your response (maybe you forgot to include @millionmommynd in your tweet?). Sounds interesting. Have you lived in Bali and/or Singapore? Or were you a visitor? Do you have any online resources to recommend for further research?

  13. For one, correlation does not imply causation.

    Poor people are more likely to be overweight. It’s not big shocking news. I work in a poor neighborhood and see it every day. Poor people are also more likely to be in worse personal health. Less likely to do well in school. Less likely to go to college. Less likely to have gym memberships. More likely to eat at McDonald’s.

    They have more children on average. And they watch more TV than rich people. They read less books. They smoke more. They work more hours per week. They drink more. Get arrested more.

    I don’t really see these things as directly related. I kind of agree with a previous poster who said both things (overweight and in debt) point to a lack of self control. But even that might just be “poor parenting”. When you get a handle of your finances, you almost can’t help but get a handle on other areas of your life such as relationships, career, and personal health.

    Waking up and not acting like a zombie coasting through life is the on ramp to the highway of success.

  14. I’m 23, overweight and am saddled with student debt.
    I think I am in this situation due to priorities and lack of self respect (and love). There is so little financial information for young people like myself. I took the money without fully understanding how repayments would affect me after University. I also put every shred of energy into school (it was my priority). I would buy bagels at school because it was cheap, and dense (like eating a loaf of bread). I knew that bagel would keep me full through my classes so it won out over apples or anything that had to be prepared.
    I understand what Baker is getting at in his question (like playing fire in the barn as a kid). To be blunt, I would choose to be overweight. A few years ago it would have been opposite, but I am slowly learning to love myself.
    Choosing debt most likely means one is spending to feel better, spending to create a facade for the general public. Thus meaning having people see beauty than have the ability to financially take care of oneself.
    By choosing to be overweight one is able to let go of others opions (while still being worthy of love) to be financially free.
    I am currently working on my debt and have started, as a result, eating like a rabbit simply because I find it CHEAPER. I spend $40 a week on groceries (unless I go crazy buying bulk nuts). Much cheaper than my roomate who spends $85 a week on diet pepsi, chips, and boxed junk.
    I really appreciate this post and the perspective it has brought me.

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