Wallets may have gotten thinner during this recession, but waistlines have expanded.

As the unemployment rate inches toward 10 percent and U.S. consumers continue to find themselves strapped for cash, many are turning to cheaper fare to better balance their budgets. That often means fast food and canned and frozen processed foods that are higher in fat and calories and are made with refined grains and sugars.

The result: More Americans are getting fatter and becoming more at risk of getting illnesses such as diabetes.

"Eating healthy has been one of the big casualties of this economic downturn," says Harry Balzer, chief industry analyst at NPD Group and author of the research firm's annual "Eating Patterns in America" report. "Last year, consumers cut back on eating 'better-for-you' and organic foods."

In an online survey this summer of 1,200 people about food affordability, conducted by food-industry research firm Technomic, 70 percent of respondents said healthier foods are increasingly difficult to afford.

"Value is what counts to consumers right now," says Bob Goldin, executive vice president at Technomic. "And, unfortunately, in the minds of many consumers, a lot of these lower-priced options are just not as healthy, but they're still buying them."

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