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Jul. 2 2009 - 4:16 pm | 2,251 views | 2 recommendations | 14 comments

America’s 10 fattest states v. its 10 poorest states: notice anything?

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A report released yesterday by the Trust for America’s Health tells us America is still getting fatter, despite the best efforts of public health and education officials. A full 23 states in the union have seen an increase in adult obesity rates over the past year, while not a single state saw an actual decrease.

Children didn’t fare much better than the adults. Obesity rates among children have tripled since 1980. In most states, the number of overweight or obese children hovered around one-third. In Mississippi, as many as 44.4% of kids are overweight or obese.

As noted here previously, the truth hidden behind the easy assumption is that, despite the gluttony implied by our obesity, tens of millions of Americans cannot, in fact, afford proper nourishment, particularly in the midst of this recession. According to Sasha Abramsky, author of Breadline USA: The Hidden Scandal of American Hunger and How to Fix It, A full 25 million rely on food pantries, while “another 13 million aren’t linked to a food distribution network, and 14 million children are at risk of going hungry on any given day.”

The TFAH report data, when put in context, reminds us that much of our nation’s weight problem is, in fact, a class problem, as it’s the poor who suffer disproportionately. As argued in the report, some of the main reasons behind the epidemic are “economic constraints.” Among them:

  • “Value sizing” of less nutritious foods, and the
    higher costs of many nutritious foods.
  • Expense of and taxes on gym memberships,
    exercise classes, equipment, facility use, and
    sports league fees.
  • Lower-income neighborhoods have fewer and
    smaller grocery stores and less access to affordable
    fruits and vegetables.

Upon examining the report’s list of the 10 fattest states, it occurred to me that the list looked awfully familiar, but from an entirely different context — a list of the nations 10 poorest states. A quick comparison of the two lists bears out the economic correlation with high overweight and obesity rates rather strikingly:

America’s Fattest States

  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%
  8. Louisiana — 28.9%
  9. Michigan — 28.8%
  10. Arkansas / Ohio (tie) — 28.6%

America’s Poorest States (based on median household income)

  1. Mississippi — $34,473
  2. West Virginia — $35,059
  3. Arkansas — $36,599
  4. Oklahoma — $38,770
  5. Alabama — $38,783
  6. Louisiana — $39,337
  7. Kentucky — $39,372
  8. Tennessee — $40,315
  9. Montana — $40,627
  10. New Mexico — $40,629

– Source: 2006 U.S. Census Bureau data, the most recent available

Notice any parallels? Of the 11 fattest states in America, only three of them don’t make the list for the 10 poorest states as well. Throw out the no. 10 tie, Ohio, and it’s eight of ten. Meanwhile the three fattest states that don’t match up — South Carolina, Michigan and Ohio — although better off economically in 2006, have each taken serious hits since that data was collected. Today, each falls within the top eight states for highest unemployment — which one can only assume has probably driven the median income way down.

And, unsurprisingly, it’s Middle America — particularly the South — that bears the brunt in both categories.

As the TFAH reports, fast-food chains like McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell reported worldwide sales growth in 2008 — at a time when so many other restaurants are struggling to keep their heads above water. The reasons are pretty obvious: when money gets tight, that McDonald’s $1 value menu starts looking pretty good — as I can attest from personal experience. If I have three bucks in my pocket, am I going to spend it on less than a pound of organic tomatoes? Or am I going to get a burger, fries and a McChicken?

Couple that with the additional health costs associated being overweight, and the high prevalence of the non-insured among these selfsame poor, and you’ve got a vicious cycle that not only screws poor people, but drives up health care costs for the insured as well. It’s time we started finding ways to make healthier food cheaper.


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  1. collapse expand

    I find it a minor upset that my home state of Indiana didn’t make it in the big bottom 10. It’s usually in there. I’m not whether that’s because Hoosiers got thinner, or everyone else got larger.

  2. collapse expand

    You didn’t notice they are for the most part red states too?

  3. collapse expand

    OK, here’s a project:

    Invent something tasty that can be tossed in a microwave and nuked, that will fill an American up for lunch, and that’s ~300 calories. And for about $2 at a convenience store..

    I wonder if some sort of meat-flavored cellulose product could do it? Or how much research there is in developing snack foods that have nondigestible ingredients that can be spiced/flavored in a low-calorie fashion?

  4. collapse expand

    All of them Republican states! Many of these are also to be found on the top-ten lists of highest teen pregnancy, highest divorce rates, and most online porn subscriptions. http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2009/06/27/opinion/20090627blowchart.html

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