Obesity in the South Driven by Poverty, Study Says

Obesity rates in the southern states are increasing due to escalating poverty rates, according to a new report. States with a higher poverty rate have a higher number of obese citizens, the study says, because people with a low income are more likely to purchase inexpensive processed foods, which contribute to weight gain.

bulging clothes_jpgA recent report on obesity in America shows that Southerners are fat – the question is: Why?

Last week, we reported on a new joint study by Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which notes that 8 of the 10 states with the highest rates of adult obesity are in the South. Mississippi is the “fattest state”, with nearly 33 percent of its residents classed as overweight or obese, and Alabama and Tennessee hold the #2 and #3 spots respectively, each with an obesity rate of 30 percent.

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Now, researchers are trying to get to the root cause. Is the culture to blame? Ethnicity? Or is it all that rich, delicious Southern cooking?

Many researchers think the reason for increased obesity in the South is poverty. Mississippi is the poorest state in the Union, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, with one out of five of its citizens living below the poverty line. In fact, the South is the poorest region in the country – and that can be dangerous. Because, ironically, poor people tend to eat a lot of fattening food.

Processed food is inexpensive, and someone with a limited income is much more likely to eat cheap, calorie-soaked fried foods and processed cheese product than more costly fresh vegetables and fruits.

What’s more, in the rural South – unless you grow your own – fresh food can be pretty hard to find. A 2004 study by the University of South Carolina found that grocery stores are rare in rural areas of the South. While every small town has its convenience store, it can be hard to find carrots, squash, and tomatoes at the Gas-N-Go.

And then there’s the fact that many Southerners get no daily exercise at all. None. Of course, it’s easy to understand why. The South is hot and humid, and trying to run outdoors for 45 minutes may just cause heat stroke, which can kill you.

So, how can the South overcome its obesity epidemic? Researchers say the best bet is for people to do what they can to eat better and get some kind of exercise each day. Good food can be found – a monthly drive into town to buy healthy foods is definitely better than eating a frozen burrito from the local convenience store, and state and federal aid programs are available to poor people to help cover the cost.

Exercise can always be moved indoors – by getting a treadmill, for example – or done outdoors after the sun goes down when it’s cooler.

As for the soul food – don’t worry. You can still enjoy collards and fried chicken in moderation, say the experts. Say for Sunday dinner. Now that sounds good.

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