Saturday, April 6, 2019

What makes Tennesseans so fat?

Ten Fattest States
by Rod Williams - Recently there was a story carried in major newspapers across the country that listed the states with the fattest populations. Tennessee had the dubious embarrassing distinction of being among the top ten fattest states. Tennessee was, in fact, the third fattest state. The only states with a fatter population were Mississippi and West Virginia.

Why are we so fat? Looking at the list, one thing you notice immediately is that most of the fat states are Southern states.  Of the top ten, Kentucky, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Indiana are also in that number. One could argue Kentucky and West Virginia are southern states but not Oklahoma and Indiana.  Looking at the whole list, however, not all of the southern states are among the fat states. The least fat southern state is Virginia at number 38.  If you know anything about Virginia however, then you know that northern Virginia is cosmopolitan and not populated by many native Virginians and northern Virginia is more heavily populated that the rest of the state. So an examination of the list shows some fat states that are not southern states and a southern state that is not fat, but generally most of the fat states are southern states.

African-American proportion
of state populations

Other than being southern, are there any other factors that the fat states have in common" I started thinking of other possible correlations.  I love statistics and charts and rankings but one has to be skeptical and interpret data.  Cause and correlation are not the same thing. When looking at someone else's interpretation of facts, keep this in mind: People who carry cigarette lighters have higher incidents of lung cancer.

A look at demographics shows that there seems to be somewhat of a correlation between the proportion of African Americans in a state and how fat the state is.  The correlation is not perfect however. West Virginia is the second fattest state but they rank 38th as a state with a high proportion of Black residents. DC is number 1 in proportion of African American yet is only the 39th fattest "state."

Maybe there is a correlation between poverty and fatness. Maybe it is not race but poverty that will indicate how fat a state's population is. One may reason that healthy food cost more than unhealthy food and if you can't afford healthy food that causes you to be fat and the poorer a state is the more fat people it has. That correlation is no more solid than a race correlation.  D. C is the 7th poorest "state" and yet the 39the fattest. Alaska is the state with the 8th least rate of poverty but the 21st fattest state. Still, in general, poverty and being fat correlate.
List of U.S.  states 
by poverty rate

What about education?  One could reason that the better educated a person is the more knowledge they have about the benefits of eating healthy and the benefits of staying fit and they have exhibited the self discipline to get an education so maybe they have the knowledge and character to not be fat. In looking at a list of states by education attainment, one sees about the same correlation.  Nevada is an anomaly. It is only the 45th fattest state and yet it is the sixth least educated state. Most states however line up pretty close.

What about religion? Are religious people fatter than non-religious people? It seems to be so. Utah however, breaks the mold.  Utah is ranked as the 49th fattest state and yet the third most religious. Why would religious people be fatter than non-religious people? For more on the ranking of a state by the state's religiosity, follow this link.

What about bankruptcies?  Sometimes people need to file bankruptcy because of circumstances beyond their control.  The leading cause of personal bankruptcy is excessive medical bills.  However, a lot of bankruptcies are a result of moral failings; people borrow money and don't pay it back. Bankruptcy can indicate a person has a lack of a sense of responsibility, and self discipline. Many people have never learned to manage their money and never learned delayed gratification.  There is a correlation between number of bankruptcies in a state and how overweight the people of that state are.
States with the most personal  bankruptcies


A look at a comparison of cities instead of states sheds more light on the issue.  While Tennessee ranks as the third fattest state, in a comparison of cities Nashville only ranks 23rd fattest of 100 ranked cities. That is not good, but a much better ranking than the State's ranking. Knoxville is tenth fattest, Chattanooga is sixth, and Memphis is the second fattest city in America.  As in a lot of state rankings, Memphis brings down the state average of Tennessee.  Does Nashville rate less fat because there are fewer native Tennesseans in Nashville, than the rest of the state?  Has the influx of northerners improved Nashville's ranking?

In conclusion, the fattest states are southern states and they are also the poorest, the Blackest, the least educated, most religious and more prone to file bankruptcy. That however tells us the characteristics of states with a fat population but not why.

I know that not being fat often takes effort. Individuals differ and loosing weight is tough. I never had to watch my weight until I hit 50 and then my weight starting edging up.  For the last few years my weight has yo-yo ed. If I stop paying attention, I can easily put on the pounds. I do try to watch it however, if I did not I could easily be obese. I have a close relative who has struggled with her weight her whole life and she has tried.  I do not mean to be insensitive in writing this article. For any individual being fat may not be a moral failing. However, there has to be a reason that some states have a lot of overweight people and others do not. Somewhere in these correlations, their may be a key to why some large groups of people are fatter than other large groups of people.

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