Waistlines expanding fastest in the South

Who would have guessed, y’all? There is a statistical correlation between being fat and living in the land of fried chicken, cornbread, grits with red-eye gravy, sweet iced tea, pecan pie, porch swings and Sunday afternoon naps.

The Trust for America’s Health released a report Tuesday showing that obesity is rising like a buttermilk biscuit all across America, but folks are getting fatter fastest in the South.

The report ranked states according to their percentage of obese adults: 1. Mississippi. 2. Alabama. 3. West Virginia. 4. Louisiana. 5. Tennessee. 6. A tie between Texas, Kentucky and Michigan.

Indiana was 9th, South Carolina 10th, Arkansas 11th, Georgia 12th and North Carolina 16th. Kansas, Illinois and Virginia were tied at 22nd. Wisconsin was 28th.

Of the Southern states, only Florida was in the leaner half of the nation, ranking 38th.

The states that once comprised the Confederacy now make up a Corpulency. The region “is almost like a canary in a coal mine. Waistlines are growing fastest [in the South]. But why is it happening there? I can’t give you that answer,” said Shelley Hearne, executive director of Trust for America’s Health, a non-partisan, non-profit organization with the stated goal of improving the health of Americans.

The report, “F as in Fat: How Obesity Policies Are Failing in America–2005,” uses statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta to show state-by-state trends. Along with the nation as a whole, each state’s average percentage of obese adults from 2002-2004 is compared with the average over the previous three years.

Nationwide, the average obesity rate for the most recent three-year period was 22.7 percent of the adult populace, up slightly from 22 percent in the previous period. No state met the national goal of 15 percent or lower, said Hearne. Every state showed an increase in its obese population except Oregon, which stayed the same.

“We really don’t have the research” to show conclusively why Southerners seem to be the most obese Americans, said the report’s co-author, Parris Glendening, president of the Smart Growth Leadership Institute and former governor of Maryland.

“But this part of the country is leading the nation in the increase in obesity and is going to suffer dramatically in its health as a result,” he concluded.

Hearne explained, people with lower education levels and less income are more likely to be fat, for instance. “You can match that up with demographics of states,” she said.

The report defines adults with a Body Mass Index of 30 or more as “obese.” The index is meant to be a more accurate measure than a simple weight-to-height ratio, but is sometimes flawed when considering very muscular, fit people.

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Obesity rankings

State obesity rankings from highest to lowest by percentage of obese adults based on average of data covering 2002-2004. The national average was 22.7 percent:

1 Mississippi 28.1

2 Alabama 27.7

3 West Virginia 27.6

4 Louisiana 25.8

5 Tennessee 25.6

6 (tie) Michigan 25.3

6 (tie) Texas 25.3

6 (tie) Kentucky 25.3

9 Indiana 25.2

10 South Carolina 25.1

11 Arkansas 25.0

12 Georgia 24.5

13 Ohio 24.4

14 Oklahoma 24.1

15 Pennsylvania 24.0

16 (tie) North Carolina 23.9

16 (tie) Missouri 23.9

16 (tie) North Dakota 23.9

19 Alaska 23.5

20 (tie) Iowa 23.4

20 (tie) Nebraska 23.4

22 (tie) Kansas 22.9

22 (tie) Illinois 22.9

22 (tie) Virginia 22.9

25 Minnesota 22.6

26 South Dakota 22.6

27 Delaware 22.5

28 Wisconsin 21.9

29 (tie) Washington 21.7

29 (tie) Maryland 21.7

31 California 21.5

32 (tie) Maine 21.3

32 (tie) Nevada 21.3

34 New York 21.2

35 DC 21.2

36 Oregon 21.0

37 Idaho 20.9

38 Florida 20.7

39 New Mexico 20.5

40 (tie) New Jersey 20.3

40 (tie) Arizona 20.3

42 Wyoming 20.1

43 New Hampshire 19.9

44 Utah 19.6

45 (tie) Montana 19.1

45 (tie) Vermont 19.1

47 Connecticut 18.9

48 Rhode Island 18.6

49 Massachusetts 17.8

50 Colorado 16.4

Not available Hawaii

Source: Trust for America’s Health/ www.healthyamericans.org