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FAIRFIELD, Connecticut – With inflation rising, the United States is on the brink of another recession. While people may want to brace themselves for high unemployment and business closures, a new study suggests that another consequence could be changing our diets. Researchers at Sacred Heart University found that during a recession, people eat less protein and green vegetables and more sugar and fatty foods.

The change in diet has affected more people in households where general access to food is limited. Low quality, highly processed foods are often much cheaper than healthier options for people.

“Overall, we found that the Great Recession had a negative impact on the eating behavior of both adults and children,” explains Jacqueline Vernarelli, Ph.D., director of research education and assistant professor of public health at Sacred Heart. Press release. “This adds to the strong evidence that the economic downturn affects household income, employment status, and subsequent levels of household food security.”

While the study did not directly measure the impact of COVID-19 on diet, the researchers suggest it is an important factor influencing today’s economy.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an unprecedented increase in food insecurity and a sharp increase in the need for emergency food resources and other types of food assistance,” says Dr. Vernarelli. “By identifying key consumption patterns during the previous recession, we can identify areas that may require intervention now and during the crisis. [pandemic] recovery years.

Children eat 200 more calories a day in a poor economy

The team collected data from over 60,000 adults and children living in the United States. They looked at people’s diets and household food security before, during and after the Great Recession of 2007-2010.

Household food security was defined as having enough food for each household member to lead an active and healthy life. In contrast, food insecure households have limited or indefinite access to sufficient healthy food. Food insecure people have a higher risk of nutritional deficiencies and chronic diseases.

The results showed that the nutritional value of food is reduced when families choose to buy cheaper products instead of healthier options. Food insecure households may have enough food to keep everyone fed, but the variety and quality of their meals may be reduced. During the Great Recession, children living in food insecure homes ate more solid fats and sugar. Children ate 200 more calories a day than they did before and after the recession.

“Using historical data to understand and predict potential nutrient needs and areas of concern can help public health nutritionists better serve food insecure communities and help make informed food aid policy decisions,” comments Dr. Vernarelli.

The authors of the study add that the findings could shape policies that open access to nutritious foods in programs such as SNAP, WIC and the National School Lunch Program.

The research team presented their findings at Nutrition 2022 Live Online.

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