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Dr. Kestner: Have you tried the recession diet?

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I don’t know who officially decides whether we are in a recession, depression, or “economic downturn,” but after watching the news for the past few days, I can tell for sure that the end of the world is near. At least, that’s the impression I have after even a few minutes of their gloom and doom broadcasts.

Obviously, there are some substantial economic reversals happening across the globe.

Many people seem to think we were living on borrowed time economically and a “correction” was long overdue. Others seem to have been totally blindsided by the rapid developments of the past several months.

I am certainly no financial or economics expert, but I do recall interest rates in the double digits during the Carter administration and being able to buy gasoline only on alternate days. Somehow we as a country managed to live through that bleak time, so I anticipate we will find our way to the other side of this financial morass as well.

It may take several more months to start seeing the positive signs, but eventually recovery will happen.

In the meantime, there are a few very significant benefits to our current economic situation. Many people are being very conscious of how they spend money. They are taking the time to actively prioritize their expenditures.

Obviously healthcare, family safety, nutritious food and basic needs are at the top of everyone’s list, right? If that really were the case, we would likely see liquor stores and smoke shops closing their doors.

Alcohol industry reports indicate hard liquor and wine sales are up in spite of (or perhaps because of) the economic worries. Some stores are reporting record profits. This is not unheard of in times of economic stress. The same phenomenon typically occurs when economic indicators began to falter.

Since times are tough and cigarette prices are up, tobacco sales must be plummeting, right? Wrong again.

According to a report unveiled last week by Georgia State University public health expert Michael Eriksen, tobacco use is likely to grow during tough economies. Eriksen has an extensive resume in preventive medicine and previously headed the Office on Smoking and Health for the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. He reports smoking tobacco kills 450,000 Americans each year and drains $150 billion from the U. S. economy. He relates that during hard economic times, people rely on what they consider affordable pleasures, even if there is a known health risk.

He’s probably right about affordable pleasures. Chocolate sales are up as well. So are fast food numbers. According to PRNewswire.com, McDonald’s reported $4.31 billion net income in 2008 more than $2.39 billion in 2007 and an increase of 16 percent in earnings.

Specialty coffee drink purveyor Starbucks has announced drastic reductions in workforce and closures of some outlets. Specialty coffee drink sales are up overall, however, so this is likely due to competition offering a lower priced alternative. As Starbucks regroups and lowers their prices, a rebound is likely.

Even though these reports indicate many of us persist in costly habits during a recession, this economic readjustment period is a perfect time to consider new habits.

Many people are taking advantage of the changing times to travel less by car and try alternatives such as walking or biking to nearby locations or trying public transportation.

Some people are spending more time browsing supermarket aisles to find new foods to try at home to replace dining-out habits. With a little effort, this can lead to much healthier eating habits.

I talked to one fellow recently who told me that he and his wife had each lost nearly 10 pounds since adopting the walk-more, eat-at-home, recession, weight-loss plan.

I don’t think Parcheesi and Monopoly are going to displace the PSP, Wii or Xbox, but some local families are spending more time together in group activities. Even adding one family meal at home per week can be a bonus for many.

I’m sure many Post readers can cite more examples of benefits from adapting to changing economic times. There is always a silver lining of opportunity in every grey cloud of discouragement … if you look for it.

Dr. Mark Kestner
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