People who are unemployed have the poorest health habits when compared to people employed full- or part-time or those excluded from the workforce, suggests data from the Gallup-Healthways Healthy Behaviors Index.
The Behaviors Index is a component of Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, and measures four items including smoking, eating healthy, frequency of weekly exercise, and weekly consumption of fruits and vegetables.
On the rating scale, unemployed people scored a 59.1 for healthy habits, compared to a 60.8 for people employed part-time but seeking full-time work, 62.9 for those employed full-time, and a 66.1 for people not in the workforce (students and retirees).
Overall, people not in the workforce demonstrated the healthiest habits, likely due to healthy eating and a decrease in smoking habits among retirees. Within the age group of 18 to 29 non-workers, healthier habits were attributed to a more flexible schedule related to school attendance.
Unemployed people were 68 percent more likely to report smoking habits than their counterparts. They were also the least likely to eat enough fruits and vegetables, and were the least likely to exercise for at least 30 minutes, three times a week.
The stress of being unemployed may be a large contributor to the reported tendency to unhealthy habits. A separate Gallup inquiry revealed people who have been unemployed for six months or longer are more likely to experience worry, sadness, and stress.
“The longer the unemployment continues, the more impact it will have on their personal lives and mental health,” said to New Jersey On-line Shauna Moses, the New Jersey Association of Mental Health Agencies’ associate executive director. “There’s stress in the marriage, with the kids, other family members, with friends.”
Effects of unemployment stress were seen as early as within one month, with symptoms of decreased optimism and hopelessness increasing as time went on. The negativity trickled down to other members of the family — including children.
According to a study by University of California at Davis, children were 15 percent more likely to repeat a grade in families where the head of the household had lost their job.
“The extent that job losers are stressed and emotionally disengaged or withdrawn, this really matters for kids,” said to the New York Times Dr. Kalil, a developmental psychologist and director of the University of Chicago’s Center for Human Potential and Public Policy. “The other thing that matters is parental conflict. That has been shown repeatedly in psychological studies to be a bad family dynamic.”
But while stress is a primary factor in unhealthy habits, other factors relating to the workforce affect the overall health of adults.
Workplaces often ban smoking and offer insurance incentives for those who are smoke-free. Other businesses will not hire smokers for various reasons, eliminating them from the survey pool. Some small businesses have set up health funds for employees, depositing monies into the account for good health habits relating to tobacco use and obesity.
The efforts of employers to keep employees healthy have gone mainstream, and often contribute to a healthier lifestyle for employed individuals.
Similarly, people with healthy habits are more able to work a full-time job, travel, and hold down continuous employment.
“Ultimately, healthy choices should be attainable regardless of employment status, but the role of employers in engendering and incentivizing these behaviors can continue to serve as a leading factor in the fight to improve Americans’ health,” wrote Gallup.