Hurricane Sandy Dealt Blow to Healthy Habits

Rachael Rettner, MyHealthNewsDaily Staff Writer

Health officials normally see a dip in exercise during the winter months, but in areas affected by Hurricane Sandy, the drop in physical activity after the storm was twice that of the rest of the country, according to a new poll.

Between Nov. 1 and Dec. 15, 2012, after Hurricane Sandy, residents of New Jersey, New York and Connecticut were 12 to 13 percent less likely to report exercising for 30 minutes at least three days a week than they were before the storm (from Sept. 15 to Oct. 28).

Over the same period, the decline in exercise in the rest of the country was just 6 percent, on average.

Hurricane Sandy also had an impact on healthy eating habits. After the storm, residents in the most affected areas were 7 percent less likely to say they were eating healthy than before it, according to the poll, which was conducted by Gallup-Healthways.

Residents in less-affected areas of the three states were 3 percent less likely, and those in the rest of the country were 1 percent less likely, to say they were eating healthy over the same period.

Smoking rates after the storm also increased in areas most affected (from 14 to 17 percent), while smoking rates in the rest of the country did not change in that period, Gallup-Healthways said.

Although the study was correlational, and so couldn't say whether Sandy caused the change in healthy habits, natural disasters disrupt normal life, and can make everyday activities such as exercise impractical or impossible. The new poll numbers provide an indication of just how much disasters affect healthy habits.

Power outages may contribute to poor eating habits, because they prevent people from storing fresh and healthy foods, such a produce. [See How to Eat Healthy If Your Power's Out.]

In addition, studies show people are more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as poor eating and smoking, when they are stressed.

Although people may not always be able to keep up healthy habits in stressful situations, these habits, especially exercise, can reduce stress, experts say.

The poll results are based on phone surveys of more than 6,400 adults ages 18 or older living in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut, and more than 35,000 interviews with residents in the remaining 47  U.S. states. The impact of Hurricane Sandy on healthy habits may be even greater when taking into account the effect on children, Gallup-Healthways said.

Pass it on: Natural disasters can make it harder for people to practice healthy habits.

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