We are all well aware of the obesity epidemic that currently plagues our nation. With more than 78 million people in the United States being categorized as obese, meaning they have a body mass index of 30 or higher, it's certainly an issue that warrants a more in-depth look at possible factors and potential solutions. Additionally, there are higher rates of obesity in certain areas within the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just released statistics about obesity rates ranked by state, revealing that a greater percentage of obese individuals live in the South and the Midwest. So the question emerges--what causes certain states to have such higher rates of obesity?
Mississippi ranks first place in a contest that nobody is proud to take the gold medal in, while Colorado ranks last (again) in percentage of obese individuals.
While we certainly know that there is demographic data that correlates with obesity, such as race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, education level, etc., we'll focus on other characteristics within states that may affect weight status.
Characteristics of Fit States
• Access to safe places to exercise
• Greater access to healthy foods, including more supermarkets and farmers' markets
• Lower crime rates, which encourages people to go outside and be physically active
• More public parks, sidewalks, bike trails, community centers and safe areas for kids to play
• More time for kids to spend in recess at schools
• Healthier lunches at schools
• Year-round climates that are mild and allow for outdoor activities more often
• A variety of health and wellness programs are made a priority
• Larger number of community gardens and school gardens, which have gained popularity since Michelle Obama's Let's Move initiative
• Terrain that inspires outdoor activities, such as hunting, fishing, hiking, skiing, rafting, etc.
What States Are Doing to Fend Off Fat
States are getting more creative to get their residents to slim down. Here are some of the innovative ways they're aiming to reduce their obesity rates.
• In West Virginia, they're encouraging increased physical activity by providing grants to schools and senior center programs, and they're organizing community walks.
• Tennessee is promoting community gardens, walking and biking routes, and improved school nutrition.
• Oklahoma is cutting back on sugar-laden drinks and snacks in schools, particularly those sold in vending machines.
• In Arkansas, parents get "report cards" on their children's fitness levels, gauged by BMI, and receive tips for improving nutrition and physical activity.
The Bottom Line
While the characteristics of the state in which you live may work against you, you can practice a healthy lifestyle regardless of where you call home. Perhaps the climate doesn't allow for as many outdoorsy activities or for you to seek out community centers or gyms. Get physical activity at home by using exercise DVDs. Get involved with your local school district to advocate for healthier school lunches or more hours devoted to recess. Make moving more and eating less a priority.
Kari Hartel, RD, LD is a Registered, Licensed Dietitian and freelance writer based out of St. Louis, MO. Kari is passionate about nutrition education and the prevention of chronic disease through a healthy diet and active lifestyle. Kari holds a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Southeast Missouri State University and is committed to helping people lead healthy lives. She completed a yearlong dietetic internship at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, IL, where she worked with a multitude of clients and patients with complicated diagnoses. She planned, marketed, and implemented nutrition education programs and cooking demonstrations for the general public as well as for special populations, including patients with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, obesity, and school-aged children. Contact Kari at KariHartelRD@gmail.com.