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Extra cash from government program linked to higher risk of adult obesity
Date:10/21/2008

Berkeley -- While a poverty-alleviation program launched by the Mexican government that has been modeled in the United States and around the world has led to improved health and cognition outcomes in children, a new study by University of California, Berkeley, researchers says that the cash component of the program has a downside for adults.

The program, called Oportunidades, provides money to impoverished families on the condition that they participate in health-promoting activities, such as getting annual health checkups and attending nutrition and hygiene education seminars. This is in contrast to traditional welfare programs that provide cash to families based solely upon their income or where they live.

The study published today (Monday, Oct. 20) in the Journal of Nutrition found that adults in households that received more cash from the program were more likely to be overweight, obese and have higher blood pressure than those who had received less money over time.

"It's a controversial finding because it suggests that adults are not necessarily spending the money wisely for themselves," said Lia Fernald, UC Berkeley assistant professor of public health nutrition and lead author of the study. "It's not clear why the cash is having this effect, but it could be because people who suddenly have more cash are able to buy more high-calorie soft drinks, alcohol or snacks that they couldn't afford before, though we did not analyze how the money was spent in our study. This result could also reflect trends in the developing world, particularly in rapidly changing economies, of increased availability of foods high in fat and sugar in place of healthier cereals, fruits and vegetables."

The surprising study results come on the heels of an earlier paper, authored by the same UC Berkeley researchers, which showed that overall, the conditional cash transfer program was linked to better health outcomes among adults.

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Contact: Sarah Yang
scyang@berkeley.edu
510-643-7741
University of California - Berkeley
Source:Eurekalert

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