The Southern US and Obesity

The Southern US and Obesity

I know most of you don’t like to see the “dark side” of food, but if I’m going to blog about food, you can’t just look at the yummy pictures without seeing a bit of the underbelly.  Emily Freeman (a pal of mine with a PhD who is working on an obesity prevention framework for both the US and Canada) has a habit of digging up news stories that shows a bit of the “rough” stuff and I thought I’d share some good ones as she digs them up.  Today’s link is from Time and has to do with one of the mysteries of the American South:  Why is there so much obesity?

Emily says:

I tell you, I really didn’t think very much about obesity until I started working on this prevention framework.  I really think this is going to be a huge epidemic unless the US does something now and quick.  Of course the economic situation is not helping one bit, because people just eat whatever is the cheapest.  Here’s an example, I remember when we were in South Carolina recently, Hardee’s was advertising a FOUR patty burger (with FOUR slices of cheese) for just 2 dollars.  So for 4 bucks you could get two burgers with EIGHT patties and EIGHT slices of chesse… holy cow!

Here’s a little bit of the article (click to read the rest):

“Why are Southerners So Fat?” – Time

People from Mississippi are fat. With an adult obesity rate of 33%, Mississippi has gobbled its way to the “chubbiest state” crown for the fifth year in a row, according to a new joint report by Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Alabama, West Virginia and Tennessee aren’t far behind, with obesity rates over 30%. In fact, eight of the 10 fattest states are in the South. The region famous for its biscuits, barbecue and pecan pies has been struggling with its weight for years — but then again, so has the rest of the country. Wisconsin loves cheese, New Yorkers scarf pizza, and New Englanders have been known to enjoy a crab cake or two. So why is the South so portly?

This is actually a huge issue and if you read the article you see that they believe it is a combination of the following:

  1. They have little to no public transportation, so instead of walking to a bus stop, they drive.
  2. They have little access to healthy food.
  3. When they do have access, they usually lack funds to purchase it.
  4. The heat makes most people not want to get out and exercise.

So what do I think about that?  I honestly have to agree (to a point), as when visiting my relatives in the south, I see a lot less people being active (riding bikes, walking, jogging, etc) than when I visit Denver (I don’t know if I could go an hour without seeing one person riding a bike).  There are some interesting things to note, though:

First, while Southern States take most of the top 10, when you look at the adult rankings, they aren’t all in the south:

  1. Mississippi – 32.5%
  2. Alabama – 31.2%
  3. West Virginia – 31.1%
  4. Tennessee – 30.2%
  5. South Carolina – 29.7%
  6. Oklahoma – 29.5%
  7. Kentucky – 29.0%
  8. Louisiana – 28.9%
  9. Michigan – 28.8%
  10. Ohio – 28.6%

Michigan and Ohio beat out some “classic” Southern States like Georgia and Texas (both come in at #14 with 27.9%).  This is interesting because it means there must be other issues otherwise you’d see GA and TX in the top 10 and MI and OH lower on the list.  Now, the child rankings are a different story:

  1. Mississippi – 44.4%
  2. Arkansas – 37.5%
  3. Georgia – 37.3%
  4. Kentucky – 37.1%
  5. Tennessee – 36.5%
  6. Alabama – 36.1%
  7. Louisiana – 35.9%
  8. West Virginia – 35.5%
  9. Washington DC – 35.4%
  10. Illinois – 34.9%

While MS still takes the “top spot” in the list, there is a huge shakeup in the rest.  One interesting case is the capitol… Washington DC ranks 45/51 with only 22.3% of adults being obese, yet clocks in at 9/51 for children who are obese.  I think that area should be looked at, as that is a huge discrepancy.  Another interesting point I read in a different article was this:

In 1991, no state had more than a 20 percent obesity rate. Today, the only state that doesn’t is Colorado, at 18.9 percent.

Can you believe that the average American has changed that much in 18 years?  There are some breakdowns of the numbers and all that fun stuff in the actual report (PDF), if you like charts and graphs.  Here is another representation:

US Obesity - 1991

US Obesity - 1991

US Obesity - 2000

US Obesity - 2000

US Obesity - 2009

US Obesity - 2009

So what are your thoughts?  What should the US do about the rising obesity tide?  Should it do anything at all?  Drop us a comment and let us know!


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5 Comments

  1. Enia Says:

    Those states aren’t just in the South. They’re also some of the poorest states in the country. That’s why the inclusion of Ohio and Michigan makes sense: rustbelt states decimated by the transition in the economy also have some of the worst poverty in the nation.

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  2. Dan Says:

    I must say as a recent transplant from the North to the South, there is a much higher propensity of “sweet.” Dessert is much more common, and if you plan catering for an event and don’t have a dessert included, it is highly frowned upon. Also, iced tea is highly sweetened, and is served everywhere. Even if you order non sweetened tea, they give you a spoon so you can stir in your own non-caloric sweetener. I’m also the odd duck because I don’t add a load of sugar and cream to my coffee. Just a cultural observation.

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  3. Rusty Shackleford Says:

    Our diet is very rich in calories and fat in the south. Fat is cheap. Our diets stem from years back when people needed alot of calories to work all day in the fields. Now we have the same diet and less physical work. Also, lets face it, like Mexican, Italian, and French cuisine, our food is awesome.

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  4. Aaron Says:

    Part of why we are so fat down here is that it is damn near 100F 10 months out of the year! Too hot to go outside!! 🙂

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  5. dj Says:

    i agree with aaron ITS WAY TO HOT

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