The clocks have turned back, and winter is on its way. As millions in the UK brace themselves, they face the dilemma of heating or eating. So how will this affect the health of the nation?
When I started this blog, I had a clear goal. Dissect the latest health and wellness trends to find out if they’re any good, and maybe publish a fun recipe every now and then. I couldn’t have imagined that this year’s biggest upcoming winter trend would be choosing between heating the house or actually eating something half decent.
How times change. Lemon water cleanses and detox teas… those were simpler times.
Unfortunately, inflation and the economy have trends too and I can tell you already that this crisis won’t be getting a good review from me.
So, while we bask in the remnants of autumnal warmth (oh yeah, there’s a climate crisis happening too) and start wondering what we’re going to do when the mercury drops, let’s look at the health effects that the cost of living crisis is going to have on far too many people.
Feeling the cold
My dear dad is a plumber, and he’s a man who feels duty bound to keep his customers warm in winter. This is especially true of his elderly clients who, at least once a year, he finds shivering and isolated in a single room trying to stave off the biting cold.
But what does this cold do to our bodies?
Well first of all, cold air inflames the lungs. This means that it can make conditions like asthma, COPD and respiratory tract infections worse.1 What’s more, cold decreases circulation and increases someone’s risk of heart disease, stroke and even death – that’s one of the reasons why mortality rates in the elderly are higher in the winter than the summer.1
Feeding the kids
Did you know that the UK has the highest food poverty levels in Europe?2
9.7 million Britons (18.4% of UK households), lived in food poverty this month – and 4 million of those people were children.2 That’s pretty dire for a nation that has the sixth largest economy in the world.
These people living in food poverty are already some of the poorest in the country and, surprise surprise, they’re being hit the hardest as the price of cheap staples soar.3 In fact, The Guardian reports that the cost of supermarket basics has gone up by a whopping 17%.3 When you think about how people tend to have to get by by already choosing the budget friendly value/basic ranges, you can’t help but worry about what people are going to have to do next.
What we’re currently seeing is parents purposefully starving themselves just so their kids can eat.4 In the past year, 1 in 5 parents have skipped meals, gone without food or relied on family and friends to feed them.4
So what does this mean for parents and their children?
Well, food insecurity is linked with poor nutrition because people are more likely to have to live on low quality and overly processed foods that are low in fruits and vegetables. This can then lead to nutrient deficiencies.5 For children, a poor diet could lead to troubles at school and their overall wellbeing, and this low quality of life can carry on through to adulthood.5
So, if you see someone who says they’re struggling to eat well but they’re overweight – don’t be quick to judge. They may not look malnurished, but unhealthy food is usually the cheapest and not everyone has access to a decent kitchen where they can easily prepare healthy meals from fresh ingredients.
The worry of it all
To end this frankly bleak blog post, let’s take a look at the mental effects of the cost of living crisis. YouGov did a survey in April/May this year, and 55% of the people who took part said that the cost of living had negatively affected their health and quality of life.6
The uncertainty of these times will be pushing up people’s stress and anxiety levels,7 which is hardly surprising as people face the very real possibility of not being able to pay their gas and/or electric bills for the next few months.
This can often lead to a vicious cycle. Poor mental health can affect spending (not being able to work, only having enough energy to order food instead of cooking from scratch), and then spending can affect mental health.8
What can you do to help?
Food banks are currently seeing a sad but not surprising drop in donations right now. If you can, please pick up a couple of extra essentials to donate. Alternatively, you can find out more about food banks from charities such as the Trussel Trust.
If you know someone who’s struggling and doesn’t know what to do, see if you can lend them a hand and help them find some financial aid from their energy companies.
Finally, don’t forget to vote when the time comes. This country has been pushed to the brink by years of austerity and cuts from people who have never and will probably never have to live through what millions of their constituents are going through right now.
Stay safe everyone. Wrap up warm and be nice to each other!
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- WHO Housing and Health Guidelines. Low indoor temperatures and insulation. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK535294/. Accessed November 2022.
- Big Issue. Food poverty in the UK: The causes, figures and solutions. Available at: https://www.bigissue.com/news/social-justice/food-poverty-in-the-uk-the-causes-figures-and-solutions/. Accessed November 2022.
- The Guardian. Prices of staples such as pasta and tea soar in UK, hitting poorest hard. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2022/oct/25/prices-staples-surge-cost-of-living-crisis-inflation-ons. Accessed November 2022.
- The Trussell Trust. One in Five Parents Struggling To Feed Their Children. Available at: http://www.trusselltrust.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2015/06/1-in-5-parents-struggling-to-feed-children-1.pdf. Accessed November 2022.
- The Lancet Gastroenterology & Hepatology. 2022;7(7):P585.
- Royal College of Physicians. Press release: Over half of Brits say their health has worsened due to rising cost of living. Available at: https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/news/press-release-over-half-brits-say-their-health-has-worsened-due-rising-cost-living. Accessed November 2022.
- Mental Health Foundation. The cost of living and your mental health. Available at: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/explore-mental-health/blogs/cost-living-and-your-mental-health. Accessed November 2022.
- Mental Health at Work. The cost of living crisis and your mental health. Available at: https://www.mentalhealthatwork.org.uk/toolkit/the-cost-of-living-crisis-and-your-mental-health/. Accessed November 2022.