The Health Risks of Being Unemployed

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NEW YORK (MainStreet) — There’s no doubt that unemployment can have a negative impact on your bank account, but several studies in recent years have shown it could hurt your health as well.

For starters, regions in the U.S. with particularly high unemployment rates tend to have more unhealthy eaters, according to a new paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The report, which is based largely on data that the Centers for Disease Control collected in a phone survey, found that for every 1% the unemployment rate increases in a given state, residents consume an average of 2%-8% fewer fruits and vegetables. Moreover, residents in these states tend to eat more fast food as the unemployment rate ticks up.

This might sound like a small problem, but if you consider the fact that the unemployment rate in states like Michigan increased by about 5% during the recession years, it implies that residents there reduced their consumption of healthy foods by as much as a third.

According to the researchers behind this study, the shift to a less healthy lifestyle is due primarily to “reduced family income and adverse mental health.”

Indeed, these factors have been found to cause additional health risks beyond dietary problems.

One study this year from Harvard found that blue-collar workers who have been fired or laid off are more than twice as likely to report being in "fair or bad" health than their employed counterparts.

To make matters worse, this same study found that workers who have experienced unemployment are also more likely to have stress-related illnesses once they find work again, showing that the mental strains of being out of work can linger for some time after being re-employed.

Other studies and surveys have found that the unemployed are more likely to suffer mental illnesses like depression and that they generally take longer to recover from illnesses.

While financial concerns are certainly a big contributor to the stress that the unemployed feel, many of these health problems do boil down to the basic personal habits and attitude you have while unemployed.

Rather than sit by helplessly and obsess about your tough situation, use your time to send out resumes on the major job search engines, and sign up for small freelance tasks on sites like Fiverr and Betterfly so you can make new contacts and a little extra cash.

And yes, rather than spending money on eating fast food because it seems cheaper, take the time to buy a few vegetables and make yourself a cheap but healthy dinner. Not only will you be in better shape physically but you'll feel better mentally too by eating well.

The one common thread among the people we’ve spoken with who have experienced success while unemployed is that they used their time to focus on a new opportunity rather than their failings, whether that opportunity was starting a business, getting in shape or just learning to cook a good meal.

—For the best rates on loans, bank accounts and credit cards, enter your ZIP code at BankingMyWay.com.

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