The new study by researchers in Lafayette College's department of economics sheds new light on differences between men and women living under the strains of debt.
"It's no secret that there is a substantial correlation between household debt and health," Susan Averett, economics professor at Lafayette, notes "and research has shown that individuals with less healthy lifestyles are more likely to hold debt."
Averett and her co-author, Julie Smith, assistant professor, used data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health to test whether financial hardship affects body weight.
They divided their sample into two groups: men and women, explored two different types of financial hardship: holding credit card debt and having trouble paying bills, and three outcomes: overweight, obese and Body Mass Index (BMI).
They found that individuals with less healthy lifestyles are more likely to hold debt, yet there is little evidence as to whether this is merely a correlation or if financial hardship actually causes obesity.
While their results reveal no causal relationship between credit card debt and overweight or obesity for either men or women, Averett said they did find suggestive evidence that having trouble paying bills may be a cause of obesity for women, but not men.
The study was published in the journal Economics and Human Biology.