New report: Obesity a huge problem in the South

A new report by the Trust for America's Health finds there is a growing problem with obesity, particularly in the South.

According to a press release, "Twenty-two states experienced an increase for the second year in a row; no states decreased. A new public opinion survey featured in the report finds 85 percent of Americans believe that obesity is an epidemic." The report also finds that "Eight of the ten states with the highest rates of overweight children were in the South."

In its state-by-state rankings, the report finds that "Mississippi topped the list with the highest rate of adult obesity in the country for the third year in a row, and is the first state to reach a rate of over 30 percent (at 30.6 percent)."

From the report's state rankings:

Adult obesity:
1 Mississippi 30.6%
2 West Virginia 29.8%
3 Alabama 29.4%
4 Louisiana 28.2%
5 (tie) South Carolina 27.8%
5 (tie) Tennessee 27.8%
7 Kentucky 27.5%
8 Arkansas 27.0%
9 (tie) Indiana 26.8%
9 (tie) Michigan 26.8%
9 (tie) Oklahoma 26.8%
12 (tie) Missouri 26.3%
12 (tie) Texas 26.3%
14 Georgia 26.1%
15 Ohio 26.0%
Childhood obesity:
1 D.C. 22.80%
2 West Virginia 20.90%
3 Kentucky 20.60%
4 Tennessee 20.00%
5 North Carolina 19.30%
6 Texas 19.10%
7 South Carolina 18.90%
8 Mississippi 17.80%
9 Louisiana 17.20%
10 New Mexico 16.80%

The report makes several recommendations, including:

• Develop a national strategy to combat obesity that involves federal, state, and local governments and engages private industry and community groups.

• Develop policies to help Americans choose healthy foods and engage in more physical activity, ranging from more phys-ed in schools to better nutritional info for restaurant food.

• Educate business on the economic value of employee wellness programs.

• Escalate research on ways to promote healthy choices.

The full report can be found here (PDF format).

So why are we fatter in the South? Our home cooking is world renowned, and not always the healthiest. But as we discussed here previously, there is also a correlation between poverty and obesity, and poverty is more prevalent in the South, particularly in the rural South. While that might seem contradictory, the problem is that fresh fruits and vegetables and other healthier choices are generally more expensive than fast food and manufactured convenience food grocery items.

As noted in that report, advertising unhealthy foods to children is also part of the problem. In a related update, U.S. food and drink corporations are taking voluntary steps to reduce such advertising and to promote healthier choices, ahead of possible FTC regulation. From Reuters:

Some of America's largest food and drink companies, including McDonald's, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and General Mills, promised on Wednesday to put stricter controls on advertising aimed at children under 12.

The voluntary steps varied among the 11 companies and were announced as the Federal Trade Commission held a forum to spotlight the need for more responsible food marketing to help address childhood obesity.

The list of companies "taking the pledge" can be found here.