ajc.com > Living
By BOB DART
Cox News Service
Published on: 08/27/07
WASHINGTON — Hold the grits and gravy, y'all! Ten of America's 15 fattest state populations are in Dixie — including Georgia, which ranks 14th in the adult rate of obesity and 12th for youths ages 10 through 17, a health report to be released Tuesday found.
Part of blame falls on the traditional Southern diet — heavy on fried foods and down home carbohydrates in cornbread, biscuits, peach cobbler and such. But the region's obesity can also be linked to lifestyle and economics, said the authors of the annual report by Trust for America's Health.
"Historic cultural preference for certain types of food" certainly plays a part in the regional variations, said Jeff Levi, executive director of the Trust. But "we also looked at poverty and physical inactivity rates this year — which show correlations with the obesity rates."
Seven of the 10 states with the highest rates of physical inactivity — "where people don't exercise" — are in the South, he pointed out. Mississippi — with the fattest adult population — also leads the inactivity list, with 31.6 percent of adults who say they don't exercise.
"And eight of the ten states with the highest rates of poverty are also in the South," said Levi. Mississippi ranks only behind the District of Columbia in its poverty level.
Among the 50 states and District of Columbia, Georgia has the 13th highest inactivity rate, at 25.9 percent, and ranks 17th on the poverty scale, at 13.1 percent.
About 26 percent of Georgia adults are obese, as are 16.4 percent of youths, according to the report.
"Many factors contribute to obesity," said Levi. "And one thing we call for is more research into understanding why rates vary in different regions and states."
Colorado is the leanest state, but even it's obesity rate for adults increased over the past year, from 16.9 to 17.6 percent.
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.
Behind Mississippi, the states in descending order of adult obesity rates were: West Virginia, Alabama, Louisiana, a tie between South Carolina and Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, a tie between Indiana and Michigan, Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas, Georgia and Ohio.
The 15 states with the highest obesity rates for youths ages 10 through 17 were: D.C., West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Texas, South Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, and Indiana. Georgia and Arkansas tied for 12th.
This fourth annual "F as in Fat: How Obesity Policies Are Failing in America" report found that adult obesity rates rose in 31 states over the past year, and such rates now exceed a quarter of the population in 19 states.
The rate of adult obesity has remained consistent in Georgia since last year.
No state experienced a decrease. Eight-five percent of Americans believe obesity is an epidemic, according to a public opinion survey also featured in the report.
"Overall, we know the rates are continuing to rise in the nation overall, so we really do need to look at regional differences," said Levi. "But also come up with a clear, comprehensive national game plan to address obesity more effectively."
He said the report is being discussed at a "Southern Obesity Summit: Promising Obesity Prevention Strategies in the Southern States" to be held in Little Rock on Aug. 27-28.
The meeting will ask why Southerners are the fattest of Americans, he said. "Representatives from 14 states in the South are coming together to discuss this exact issue - and ways to try to deal with it."
The report found that Americans are aware that they're too fat — but not doing enough to change.
"There has been a breakthrough in terms of drawing attention to the obesity epidemic. Now, we need a breakthrough in terms of policies and results," Levi. "Poor nutrition and physical inactivity are robbing America of our health and productivity."
The state rankings for adult obesity are based on three years of data — 2004 through 2006 — from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Behavioral Risk Surveillance System. The youth rankings were based on the National Survey of Children's Health, a phone survey of parents of children ages 10 through 17 conducted in 2003 and 2004 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The report also contains a national public opinion survey conducted from July 12 through 16 with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent.
Trust for America's Health is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that describes itself as "dedicated to saving lives by protecting the health of every community and working to make disease prevention a national priority." Funding for the report was provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which focuses on health care issues.