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Increased unemployment may lead to weight gain

When unemployment jumped in California during the Great Recession, so did the weight of many of the state's 1.7 million public schools students, Johns Hopkins researchers have found.

The scientists from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health said their findings suggest that a bad economy can lead to long-term health problems.

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The results, published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, say that for every one percentage point increase in county unemployment from 2008 to 2012, the school children faced a 4 percent increased risk of becoming overweight.

Other research has shown that even small changes in weight – between 5 and 10 percent – in children and adolescents can increase the risk of developing chronic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure later in life.

The researchers analyzed data from the California Department of Education for fifth, seventh and ninth graders in the state's 58 counties. They compared their results to unemployment estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"This study tells a dramatic story about the negative and lasting health effects of an economic shock like the Great Recession, effects that have not been fully understood," study leader Vanessa M. Oddo,  a PhD candidate in human nutrition at the Bloomberg School, said in a statement. "Childhood obesity is one of the biggest public health concerns of our time. And since it's not easy to lose weight once it is gained, this period of economic hardship could have consequences that last long into adulthood."

The researchers did not study why children gained weight but speculate that during tough economic times families may purchase cheaper, less healthier foods and schools may cut back on sports leagues and after school activities.

amcdaniels@baltsun.com

Twitter.com/ankwalker

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