As wallets become leaner, people could become fatter, researchers concluded after a study involving 9,000 people.
The researchers, whose findings are in the open access journal BMC Public Health, blame the obesity trend on two factors: the high price of healthy food and the tendency of people worried about debt to eat for comfort.
Eva Münster, from the University of Mainz, Germany, and her research team found that 25 percent of the 949 people in the study who were in debt were medically obese, compared with only 11 percent of the remaining 8,318 participants.
“The recent credit crunch will have health implications for private households,” she said. “While income, education and occupational status are frequently used in definitions of socioeconomic status, levels of debt are not usually considered. We've shown that debt can be associated with the probability of being overweight or obese, independent of these factors".
The researchers explain that debt can affect a series of risk factors for chronic diseases, such as limiting leisure time activities and participation in social events.
It also can hurt the quality of an individual's diet.
"A person's ability to pick and choose the food they eat often depends on the financial resources they have available," Münster said. "Energy-dense foods such as sweets or fatty snacks are often less expensive compared to food with lower energy density such as fruit or vegetables."