Some Canadians May Eat Themselves To Death Unless Oil Prices Rise, Doctor Warns

Late last month in “This Is Canada's Depression: Surging Crime, Soaring Suicides, Overwhelmed Food Banks ‘And The Worst Is Yet To Come,’” we took a sweeping look at what is truly pitiable situation in Alberta, the heart of the Canadian oil patch.

Roughly a third of provincial revenue is derived from “resources” which means that when oil prices collapsed, the territory plunged into recession. Oil and gas investment fell by more than a third in in 2015 and in its latest fiscal update, the government said it fully expects the weakness to carry into 2016.

Going into December, Canada was expected to lose as many as 100,000 oil and gas sector jobs in 2015. As the following chart from Bloomberg clearly demonstrates, the pain is especially acute in Calgary:

Needless to say, that kind of economic malaise has very real societal consequences.

In Alberta for instance, suicides were up 30% through June while violent crime is soaring. Property crime in Calgary, for example, rose nearly 40% during the first quarter.

Food bank use in the province jumped more than 23% in March (the last month for which there's data) and repo men say business is booming as Canadians struggle to make car payments amid the downturn.

Now, some medical professionals warn that the fallout from crude's historic plunge may well drive Albertans to eat themselves to death. "Alberta’s oil slump could have heavy, and unanticipated health consequences, experts are warning: a jump in obesity rates," the National Post writes, adding that "the sudden shock of job loss, debt and unemployment can trigger stress-related physiological responses that cause the body to store fat, slow the rate it burns calories and increase cravings for high-fat, calorie-loaded 'comfort foods.'"

“As medical professionals, we need to acknowledge that unemployment and the worries that come with it can make our patients susceptible to weight gain,” warns Dr. Arya Sharma, professor and chair of obesity research and management at the University of Alberta. Here's more from Sharma's recent blog post entitled "Will Low Oil Prices Lead To An Obesity Spike In Alberta?":

According to the Alberta economic dashboard, in October 2015, Alberta’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 6.6%, up from the 4.4% rate a year earlier and from last month’s 6.5% rate. The youth unemployment rate was 11.6%, up from last year’s 9.0% rate, while male unemployment increased precipitously from 3.6% last October to 7.3% this year.

 

As no one seems to be expecting a rosier future for this industry, it may well be that many who lost their jobs in the wake of mass oil patch

layoffs, will find the coming months (not to mention the festive season) both economically and emotionally challenging.

 

According to this report, suicide rates from January to June in Alberta this year are up 30% compared to the same period in 2014.

One challenge that may escape notice is the fact that this situation may also lead to significant weight gain in those affected.

 

Depression, anxiety, food insecurity, insomnia and simply being unable to afford healthy food are all important risk factors for weight gain.

Indeed it is hard to imagine how going from a high-paying job to being unemployed with little immediate hope of recovery will affect families.

As The Post goes on to note, " studies show that during the 2008 global financial meltdown families forced to cut back on food spending switched to cheaper, processed foods high in sugar and saturated fats [with] the hardest hit reducing their consumption of fruits and vegetables by as much as 20 per cent." To add insult to injury, "many in Alberta are losing their jobs just as healthy food becomes even pricier: The dollar’s plunge and California drought led to a sharp rise in the prices of many fruits and vegetables in 2015, and University of Guelph researchers, in their annual Food Price Report, predict prices will increase in 2016 by up to 4.5 per cent — meaning the average household will spend $345 more than in 2015 for the same food, according to a university release."

So in Alberta it's "feast or famine" in the most literal sense of the phrase as those who can still afford to buy food will drown their sorrows in cheap lunch meat and off-brand ice cream while the most hard hit members of society are forced to tap increasingly overwhelmed food banks. 

"One Australian study found those hit hard in the last global recession had a 20-per-cent higher risk of becoming obese than those who escaped the worst of the slowdown," The Post recounts before noting that "already, nearly six out of 10 Albertans are overweight or obese." Here's the official data from the Health Quality Council of Alberta:

So quick Saudi Arabia, stop being so obstinate and cut production.

You've already destroyed Alberta's economy, do you want it to eat itself to death too?