03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Debt Causes Obesity?

When you think about the Great Depression, you likely picture emaciated families subsisting on small portions of cabbage soup and beans, trying to make each dish last for as many meals as possible. Things are slightly different in this current recession. In-debt families are turning to cheap fast food restaurants where a meal filled with outrageous numbers of calories and fat can be bought for a few dollars and can be supersized for slightly more. It's no wonder that this current financial setback is leading to obesity, instead of emaciation.

According to a recent German study, as people are forced to adjust their eating habits due to economic hardships, they are gaining (not losing) weight. The study shows that "overindebtedness" leads to higher rates of obesity. The authors defined overindebtedness as "lack of possible debt redemption in due time due to the relation of income and cost of living after a remarkable cutback in standard of living." According to the journal BMC Public Health, the likelihood of being overweight or obese doubled with increasing debt, an association that could not be explained by other socioeconomic or medical factors.

The most likely explanation for this finding is that healthy food is more expensive than most fattening, mass-produced foods. However, there are some exceptions to this rule. Families can eat healthy foods on a limited budget by following a few guidelines.

Many believe that you have to give up fruits and vegetables to eat on a budget. Not true. If you buy produce in season, you save money (and get the most delicious products). Apples, pears, and cranberries are particularly inexpensive fruits that are loaded with vitamins.

If fresh produce is still too much for your budget, buy frozen. Frozen fruits and vegetables are frozen at the time of optimal ripeness and contain all the vitamins and minerals of fresh fruit.

To save even more money, consider planting a small vegetable garden in the backyard. Sprinkle some seeds and prepare to have vegetables season after season.

Healthy protein does not have to break the bank. Soy products, a great source of protein, tend to be very inexpensive. Beans and legumes are another cheap way to get your needed protein. And many whole grains can be bought in bulk; whole grains, such as quinoa, barley, and brown rice, are loaded with dietary fiber, protein, and essential fatty acids.

Many stores, like Costco and BJs, allow you to buy in bulk for major savings. Buy chicken breasts in bulk and divide them into individual-sized portions before freezing.

And get creative with leftovers. Never throw out food when trying to save money. Today's leftover chicken breast can be used for tomorrow's chicken salad sandwich for lunch.

There is no reason that debt needs to lead to obesity. Families in these dire situations need to make health a priority. Just think about how much money you will save on medical bills.

Subscribe to the Lifestyle email.
Life hacks and juicy stories to get you through the week.