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Stressed out

March 23, 2009

The economy, the economy, the economy -- Americans seem able to think of little else. How could they? The negative reports on job losses, on tanking investments, housing prices and consumer confidence keep coming, leaving us not just unwilling to spend, but stressed out and fearful.

That stress takes a toll -- on sleep, mood, physical health, relationships, diet (and thus weight) and, perhaps, our willingness to indulge in favorite vices.

"Times of economic stress lead to increased rates of depression," says Dr. Christopher Palmer, director of continuing education at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass. "It exacerbates illness in people who have been chronically depressed. But it also causes new cases of depression. Just the fear of losing one's job can put people over the edge."

And, of course, depression itself can create a cascade of negative health effects.

The correlation between economic uncertainty and personal health is not clear. What follows is a statistical look, as best we can muster, at how Americans are faring.

For a snapshot of the economy's effects, see E6.

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How we're holding up: some highlights

ALCOHOL

The sale of alcohol for home consumption is up 32% over the 2003 level.

DIET

39% of Americans now eat at less expensive restaurants than they did a year ago.

HEART

Among older men, the most anxious have a 30% to 40% increased risk of heart attack.

MOOD

80% of Americans say the economy is a significant source of stress.

RELATIONSHIPS

70% of Americans have so much debt that it's causing distress at home.

SLEEP

One-third of Americans say they're losing sleep because of the economy.

WEIGHT

More than 1 in 3 adult Americans are obese -- 33.3% of men and 35.3% of women.

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