- Image by Alina Zienowicz, via Wikimedia Commons
As noted in the report, programs and policies to attack obesity in this country have "increased exponentially in number, strength and breadth" over the last two years. Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" initiative to counter childhood obesity, and the NFL's "Play 60" program are two of the more high profile efforts that come to mind. Meanwhile, countless other programs of their ilk have received "an unprecedented level of support in the new health reform law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009."
Yet, in the majority of states, the problem has worsened, making these redoubled efforts feel depressingly futile — a bit like the War on Drugs.
Adult obesity rates rose in 28 states over the past year. Only D.C. experienced a decline in adult obesity rates. More than two-thirds of states (38) now have adult obesity rates above 25 percent. Eight states have rates above 30 percent — Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and West Virginia. In 1991, no state had an obesity rate above 20 percent. In 1980, the national average of obese adults was 15 percent.
In Indiana, the adult obesity rate (a three-year average) rose 0.8 percent last year to 28.1 percent, making us a tie with Georgia for the country's 17th most obese state.
Add overweight adults and you come to the shocking conclusion that 64 percent of Hoosier adults are either obese or overweight.
Perhaps more alarming, however, is the trend among children. Nationwide, a full 2/3 of adults and almost 1/2 of kids and teens are considered obese or overweight. Obesity rates have skyrocketed among children over the last few generations — having quadrupled for kids aged 6-11 and tripled among 12-19 year-olds since 1970.
We're also seeing some rather disturbing trends along racial lines:
Adult obesity rates among Blacks are at 30 percent and above in 43 states and D.C., compared with 19 states for Latinos and only one state for Whites, which reflects long-standing disparities in income, education and access to health care.
There are a lot of interesting correlations in the report between obesity rates and things like vegetable consumption. But the one I've always found most compelling is the link between poverty and weight.
As the report summarizes:
Higher obesity rates are often linked to regional, economic and social factors. Obesity rates tend to be highest in areas where poverty rates are highest and incomes are lowest. Except for Michigan, the 10 states with the highest adult obesity rates are in the South, and nine of the 10 states with the highest childhood obesity rates are in the South. Nine of the 10 states with the highest rates of poverty are also in that region.
Indeed the matches are pretty striking. Observe the states with the highest poverty rates (I've removed margin of error figures, which hover around 1.5 percent):
- States by poverty rate:
- 1 Mississippi 20.5%
- 2 D.C. 17.6%
- 3 Louisiana 17.1%
- 4 New Mexico 16.7%
- 5 Kentucky 16.5%
- 6 Texas 16.3%
- 7 (tie) Arkansas 15.6%
- 7 (tie) Arizona 15.6%
- 9 (tie) West Virginia 14.9%
- 9 (tie) Tennessee 14.9%
Then observe where they rank among the nation's most obese states:
- Obesity Rankings:
- — Mississippi: 1
- — D.C.: 49
- — Louisiana: 5
- — New Mexico: 32
- — Kentucky: 7
- — Texas: 13
- — Arkansas: 8
- — Arizona: 29
- — West Virginia: 4
- — Tennessee: 2
Notice anything? Six out of ten of the country's poorest states are also on the top ten list for America's most obese.
I would encourage anyone who's interested to go through the full report for a deeper explanation. But the link between poverty and obesity is well documented, and pretty simply explained. Poor communities have much less access to healthy food, either because it's hard to find or because it's prohibitively expensive. When you consider how cheaply a family can fill its bellies with the fattening, carb-heavy McDonalds dollar menu (or with processed foods like Hamburger Helper, generally) vs. how much it costs to eat, say, organic produce. The trend begins to make sense.
Add education and lack of access and the trend makes even more sense. I remember the poor neighborhood where I lived in Brooklyn, for example — in contrast to well-heeled Manhattan — where obesity was something you saw everywhere. Not only was edible produce hard to come by, but it was also rather expensive. In my leanest days, I found myself hitting the dollar menu myself. It was just a lot cheaper to afford a filling meal that way. Had I been a struggling parent with a few jobs, then time and ease would have been even greater factors than they already werel.
Little surprise, then, that the numbers have gone up, even during a terrible recession.