Obesity or overweight and unemployment can create a vicious cycle in which individuals cannot find and / or keep work and / or cannot afford healthy, nutritious foods. The combination of obesity and unemployment has been linked to an increased risk of serious illness, early death, low self-confidence, poor well-being, and a lower quality of life.

The recent COVID-19 pandemic has made the situation worse, highlighting the risk of being overweight or obese and unemployed. Obese people are at increased risk of hospitalization and mortality, and more people have become food unsafe as a result of losing their jobs. The significant social, health and economic impact of both conditions therefore underscores the need for public health interventions and strategies to work together to tackle obesity and unemployment.

Physical inactivity and unhealthy diet are the leading causes of obesity among the unemployed. Unemployment has a direct impact on food spending as people try to prioritize their basic needs when they have less money to spend. Fresh, local, healthy foods are often expensive and require more preparation and cooking skills, as well as specialized resources for storage.

Female runner running in the park

Female runner running in the park

© Cultura / Arno Images / Mauritius Images

People on lower incomes, lower levels of poverty, or lower levels of unemployment are also more likely to live in areas with limited safe spaces for physical activity and a higher density of grocery stores selling high-energy (high-fat and high-sugar) but low-nutritional foods.

Obese and unemployed people may be held responsible for their condition because of the perception that the situation is manageable. A person struggling with their weight or well-being may have difficulty finding work due to a lack of self-esteem and feelings of stigma. A person who is sedentary and doesn’t have a regular job can also struggle to maintain a healthy weight.

While obesity and unemployment are clearly linked, existing interventions and strategies are not used concurrently with holistic approaches to obesity and employment. Further interventions and guidelines to help people with obesity find and keep work are needed. This enables these people to have healthier food options.

In addition, measures to improve the long-term living standards of low-income people need to be implemented in order to reduce health inequalities associated with food.

What is the ASPIRE model and why is it unique?

The Project to Increase Social Capital and Individual Potential in Disadvantaged Regions (ASPIRE) is an innovative project that will jointly create a holistic model to reduce unemployment and obesity at the same time.

The model is being developed and tested in collaboration with 15 partner organizations in France and England with expertise in health, wellbeing and job placement. The project is aimed at adults who are unemployed or living with obesity / overweight and is carried out in seven locations in France and England.

The overall goal of the ASPIRE project is to provide participants with the support, skills and confidence they need to choose healthier lifestyles for themselves and their families. The project will help participants grow fresh produce, learn new skills, improve their self-confidence, nutrition and well-being. By practicing a healthy lifestyle and learning new skills, individuals can improve self-confidence, well-being, and:

  • Reduce your weight
  • Increase the activity
  • Get a job, volunteer, or do an apprenticeship
Fruits and vegetables arranged in a heart shape

Fruits and vegetables arranged in a heart shape

© lassedesignen / stock.adobe.com

How will we measure the impact and effectiveness of the ASPIRE project?

To determine the effectiveness of the ASPIRE model, researchers at Bournemouth University will conduct an assessment using an approach known as “Realist Evaluation” methods. The assessment examines which aspects of the ASPIRE model work, for which participants or subgroups and under which circumstances. This helps to identify which activities are effective within the model, test approaches for scaling, sustainability and how the model can be adapted to different contexts.

It is very important to understand how and why the ASPIRE model works in different contexts. This is because stakeholders such as local and national authorities, employment services and health care providers can make better decisions about which ASPIRE activities are useful in helping people who are unemployed or living with obesity.

What do the results of ASPIRE mean for individuals, communities and society at large?

The ASPIRE project will help address social and economic stressors that underlie unemployment, overweight and obesity. The project will also support individuals in improving access to healthy food, promoting regular exercise, and building social interaction and trust. A network of food centers will also be created to combat unemployment and obesity.

By engaging community members, any community looking to make changes to their healthy lifestyle can adapt the ASPIRE model to help their community. Finally, ASPIRE results could help improve current health and employment services and inform local and national policies to reduce obesity and health inequalities.


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