Why is The South so fat?

>> Friday, July 10, 2009

Time is posing the question this week:

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?
Well, I visited Mississippi & Louisiana three years ago, so here are my initial thoughts after hearing the portly news last week:
Of course, the South, as usual, takes the lead in embracing gluttony. I visited Mississippi and Louisiana three years ago. Dude, the people were huge down there compared to Tacoma. The ice cream store we stopped at one night (in Mississippi) gave the hugest ice cream scoops for a single. What I would call a triple or quadruple scoop was their "single scoop." Yeah, no wonder a third of them are fucking fat.
For one thing, it's poor. Mississippi is not only the fattest state in the nation, but also the poorest, with 21% of its residents living below the poverty line, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Alabama and West Virginia, the second and third fattest states, are tied for fifth poorest. With a poverty rate of 14%, the South is easily the most impoverished region in the country. "When you're poor, you tend to eat more calorie-dense foods because they're cheaper than fruits and vegetables," explains Jeff Levi, executive director of Trust for America. Poor neighborhoods also have fewer grocery stores, even in the rural South.
A valid point. Except that many of those who own homes with yards could grow vegetables. Or have a fruit tree. Not all of these people live in apartment buildings. Many people around the nation grow their own food, and they're not wealthy or even middle class.
Maybe it's the culture. Southerners definitely enjoy their fried chicken (not to mention fried steak, fried onions, fried green tomatoes, fried pickles and fried corn bread). Even when their food isn't fried, they like to smother it in gravy. But while nutritionists frequently blame Southerners' large guts on their regional food choices, the accusation is a little unfair. Just as Californians don't actually live on wheat grass and tofu, Southerners don't really sit around eating fried chicken every day.
I know an ice cream shop you should visit! Really, the scoop size (proportions) were huge! I'm sure many of these people could lose pounds easily if they dropped the super-sized soft drinks. They even put tons of sugar in tea--i.e. sweet tea. Yeah, it tastes great, but have you ever seen how much sugar goes into one pot? It's a LOT. Increased sugar consumption equals an increase in weight gain & diabetes. Duh!
"I've not come across anything that says the diet in the Southeast is worse than the rest of the country," says David Bassett, co-director of the University of Tennessee's Obesity Research Center. "We're definitely in what I like to call the 'Stroke Belt,' " he says, referring to Southeastern states' high percentage of heart disease and hypertension, "but I think that has more to do with Southerners' lack of physical activity rather than the food." Bassett isn't just talking about neglected gym memberships and people who sit on the couch all day. Physical activity can be something as simple as walking to the bus stop. That's another problem, by the way: the South doesn't have many bus stops. Public transportation is paltry, and for most people, the best way to get around is by car. "You don't really think of riding the train as exercise, but at least you have to walk a few blocks to get to the stop," says Bassett. States like Mississippi and Tennessee also have a surprising lack of sidewalks, discouraging even the most eager pedestrians. Many roads are narrower than those in the North — where streets have wider shoulders to accommodate winter snow — and people who want to bike or jog find themselves uncomfortably close to traffic.
I did notice a lack of sidewalks when I was in Mississippi and thought it was quite strange. However, a lack public transportation isn't the cause of mass obesity in one area of the country. Utah has one of the lowest rates of obesity, and large areas of the population drive everywhere all the time! Some of them would never think of taking the bus unless they absolutely had to.
But who wants to exercise when it's 100 degrees outside? The South is really hot and humid. Nobody in Mississippi goes running in the summer — at least, nobody sane. Bassett points out that Colorado, the state with the lowest obesity rate (18.9%), is relatively affluent and has a temperate climate and plenty of trails that lend themselves to outdoor activities.
Oh, boo fucking hoo! It's not 100 degrees outside all the time, which means that people could exercise easily outside 9 months out of the year. Even in the summer, they could get up early and go for a run while it's still cool outside. Arizona has a lower obesity rate than Mississippi, and it gets a hell of a lot hotter in Arizona than Mississippi in the summer.

Why Are Southerners So Fat? It's really not that hard of a question to answer. Really. It's not. Is Time going to ask in their future why Lindsay Lohan is an idiot? Why the phone always rings when you're in the bathroom? Why stating the obvious in a national news magazine qualifies as news?


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