Archive for April 10th, 2013

When we moved to Mississippi, I happily picked up the habit of eating “soul food” with all its abundance of fat. Who can resist southern fried chicken or greens with fatback? Previously we lived in an area where fresh seafood influenced my palate.

We may retain food preferences, but most people acclimate to the food culture surrounding them. I was no different. As a dietitian, I could readily see why Mississippi led the nation in the percentage of obese people. Sometimes being number one isn’t a good thing. In recent years, several communities and cities in the state have made strides toward more healthful living. How refreshing to learn we have been displaced as the state with the highest percentage of obese people.

The 2012 Gallup-Healthways Well-being Index identified West Virginia as the most obese state with 33.5 percent of its population in that category. The health department director from West Virginia blamed the change on fewer physical jobs and the increased availability of fast foods. The state shifted from one dependent on blue-collar workers to greater unemployment and changes in occupations. In addition to fast-foods, citizens have availed themselves of the ready access to junk food.

Unfortunately, Mississippi ranked second (32.2 percent) as the state with the most obese people followed by Arkansas (31.4 percent), Louisiana (30.9 percent), and Alabama (30.4 percent). Colorado remains the healthiest state based on an obesity rate of 18.7 percent.

National rates of obesity continue to rise. But that’s not all. Obesity has a tendency not to stand alone. West Virginia also had the highest rates of elevated blood pressure and diabetes. After West Virginia, the top states for high blood pressure included Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky, and Arkansas, and those with the highest rates of diabetes were Kentucky, Mississippi, Indiana, and South Carolina.

After Colorado, the healthiest states for blood pressure were Wyoming, Utah, Alaska, and Minnesota and for diabetes, Montana, Minnesota, Utah, and Rhode Island.

Poor health habits correlate with high obesity levels. Disease conditions most often associated with obesity in addition to blood pressure and diabetes are:

  • high cholesterol
  • heart attack
  • knee pain
  • headaches
  • depression

Lifestyle practices most associated with lower obesity rates include:

  • healthy eating
  • frequent exercise
  • non-smoking
  • easy access to a place for exercise.

The evidence is clear. Regardless in which state you live, you are more than a statistic. Just because you may live in a state with a high level of obesity doesn’t seal your fate. Nor does living in a state with higher health rates offer you much advantage. You don’t have to be among the fattest. It’s up to you. Live healthy.


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