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How Losing a Job Can Be Bad for Your Health - NYTimes.com


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Something to be aware of. 

In recent years, unemployment has resulted in an increase in body weight and a substantial decline in physical activity, one new study, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research,concluded. Another found a significant increase in death by overdosing on painkillers, tied to mental healthconditions associated with unemployment. Economists say the differences were largely because the recession’s effects have been so long-lasting and because job losses were particularly heavy in physical labor.

So the decline of work, a defining economic challenge of our time, could have consequences far beyond the job market, affecting health care expenses and mortality rates.

Those who are currently unemployed say it has had negative effects on their health. In a New York Times/CBS News/Kaiser Family Foundation poll of nonworking adults aged 25 to 54 in the United States, conducted last month, people were more likely than not to say that unemployment had been bad for their physical health, mental health and sleep.“There will be indirect costs if people are unemployed for a long time,” saidGregory Colman, an economist at Pace University and an author of the weight gain study. “The difficulties of unemployment don’t disappear automatically once you regain employment. The long-term effects ofobesity stick with us.”

They also do not seem to be using their free time to exercise more. About a third each said they exercised more than, less than and the same amount as when they were employed. But 57 percent said they spent more time doing sedentary activities like reading, watching TV and surfing the web. Fifteen percent said they spent less time doing those things.

There are several characteristics of the recent downturn that could negatively affect physical health, say economists who study the issue. Many of the jobs lost were in manual labor like construction, so even if unemployed people exercised more, they were not as physically active as they had been at work, said Mr. Colman, who did the study with Dhaval Dave of Bentley University.

Because the recovery has not brought significant numbers of new jobs, people may have settled into less healthy behaviors because they assume they will not work again soon, they found.

Unlike other studies on health and unemployment, this one used longitudinal data, tracking the same people over time. They found that a small increase in exercise, a moderate decrease in smoking and a decline in the purchasing of fast food were offset by a substantial decline in total physical activity. The net result was slight weight gain.

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