Thursday, December 9, 2010
Here's something intriguing I noticed while poking around the website of the Center for Disease Control. Every few years, there is a survey called the National Health and Nutritional Examination Surveys. One of the things this survey measures is the average daily caloric intake of the population - both men and women. There are two analyses of this data that I found - one here for 1970-2000, and another here for 1999-2008. The two analyses are not directly comparable (I believe because of differences in how age adjustment is done, and which age groups are included). Thus I have plotted them separately on the above graph (as I and II respectively). The second survey produces lower values.
The thing that caught my eye is the sharp drop in male caloric intake between the 2005/2006 survey and the 2007/2008 survey (after decades of mostly increasing food consumption). This is the green circle in the graph. It's possible, I suppose, that some men suddenly got religion about healthy eating in the last couple of years. But I'm more inclined to suspect recession induced belt-tightening (literally, perhaps).
It would take a more careful analysis of the underlying raw data to confirm this (eg was the reduction in eating concentrated amongst the newly unemployed or poor?), but I thought it was an intriguing possibility. If true, recessions in modern times might have unexpected benefits in reducing future health costs.