This summary of a research paper indicates that fruits and vegetables are vulnerable food choices if a person encounters (or has the risk of encountering) financial hardship. Not exactly an earthshaking revelation, but interesting to see it measured. The fresh produce industry needs the good times to roll for consumers to load up in the produce department.

From the summary....

How Does the Business Cycle Affect Eating Habits?

Dhaval M. Dave, Inas Rashad Kelly

NBER Working Paper No. 16638
Issued in December 2010
NBER Program(s): HE

As economic expansions raise employment and wages, associated shifts in income and time constraints would be expected to also impact individuals’ health. This study utilizes information from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (1990-2007) to explore the relationship between the risk of unemployment and the consumption of various healthy and unhealthy foods.

Estimates, based on fixed effects methodologies, indicate that a higher risk of unemployment is associated with reduced consumption of fruits and vegetables and increased consumption of “unhealthy” foods such as snacks and fast food. In addition to estimation of the average population effect, heterogeneous responses are also identified through detailed sample stratifications and by isolating the effect for those predicted to be at highest risk of unemployment based on their socio-economic characteristics.

Among individuals predicted to be at highest risk of being unemployed, a one percentage point increase in the resident state’s unemployment rate is associated with a 2-8% reduction in the consumption of fruits and vegetables. The impact is somewhat higher among married individuals and older adults. Supplementary analyses also explore specific mediating pathways, and point to reduced family income and adverse mental health as significant channels underlying the procyclical nature of healthy food consumption.