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Want to Lose Weight? Lose the Debt.

Posted Aug 31 2009 10:33pm

Normal weight loss research focuses on small-scale stuff like how taking smaller bites and drinking a glass of water before you eat will help you lose weight. Wusses. German researchers announced today that they found a significant link between people who are heavily in debt and people who are heavily overweight.

After conducting the not-terribly-rigorous-but-still-very-interesting study, researchers from the University of Mainz concluded that being in serious debt - defined as not being able to "pay off debts in a reasonable time frame" - puts you at an approximate 2 - 2.5 fold risk of being overweight or obese. At least if you are German and are honest in telephone surveys. (Who would ever lie to a stranger over the phone about their weight or their money problems?? )

The researchers readily admit that there are compounding variables not addressed in this survey. For example, a low socioeconomic status (i.e. being poor) has already been correlated with both a higher BMI and a greater amount of debt. Correlation is not causation; I get it. But on a certain level the debt-obesity connection just makes sense. It has been well proven that stress exacerbates weight problems and what could possibly be more stressful that having a slew of creditors breathing down your neck? I recently acquired a new phone number (not for nefarious purposes but thanks for asking) and with the new digits came all the collections-agency phone calls accrued by the previous owner of the number. At least five times a day I get an automated voice insisting that I put "Robert Imigraio" on the line immediately. I'm about ready to chuck the phone through the wall and it's not even my debt!

In addition to the stress factor, being in debt is a clear sign of money issues and as anyone who is short on cash knows, the last thing you are worried about is whether or not the "froot" in your loops is organic much less low sugar. Not to mention that being in debt is also depressing and, hey, some people eat when they are depressed.

Another nuance that interests me, but was not addressed in the survey, is that poor people are not the only people with debt issues. Just using Google Earth's new "foreclosure" feature shows me that plenty of wealthier folks are losing the debt war. At least in America, debt is becoming the great equalizer.

So what's the point of all this, beyond morbid curiosity? Not to go all Oprah on you but it's another angle at helping people live better lives. Fat shaming certainly hasn't reduced the level of obesity. Neither have well-intentioned educational programs. Nor has scary you-will-die-young-and-also-destroy-the-environment-if-you-can't-shut-your-pieho statistics. So why not try addressing one of the possible causes by helping people get out of debt? I haven't done any surveys on the issue - not to brag or anything but I do know 9 people in Germany plus I have a phone - but it seems that resolving debt could have many positive effects, not the least of which is on your waist line. Gives a whole new meaning to "the debt diet" no?

PS, if you have any tips on how to make these collection people stop calling please let me know! Just don't call me though because I've stopped answering my phone.
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