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Southern Girth

Quinn Phillips

July 20, 2009

What makes people overweight or obese? It’s a complex question, involving factors ranging from income to exercise level, preferred foods, and social pressure. The answer, even though it may have many parts, is of great interest to policymakers at a time when obesity — and its associated conditions, which include Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease — are not only reducing quality of life for millions, but also contributing to an enormous share of health-care costs.

So a recent article on Time.com, which asks why the South has a higher obesity rate than the rest of the Unites States, may look at this question from an important angle, by comparing one group of people with another. The author notes that although the traditional Southern diet — with its fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, and greens cooked in animal fat — may appear to be the culprit, most Southerners do not actually eat such food regularly. Instead, she concludes that poverty in the South leads many people to generally seek calorie-dense foods, since they tend to be the cheapest. Another contributor, according to the article, is the general lack of public transportation, which would at least force people to walk to the bus stop rather than just from the house to the car. The lack of sidewalks or wide shoulders on roads also makes walking and biking difficult. Furthermore, the Southern climate discourages outdoor physical activity: When it’s extremely hot and humid, people tend to stay put.

While the article relies on official statistics to frame the situation in the South, its analysis is more anecdotal, relying on the statements and opinions of a few researchers. No data is presented to back up allegations that Southerners get less physical activity or eat more calorie-dense foods. And, of course, many possible factors — including genetic makeup, ethnic and racial background, and social acceptance of obesity — are not considered.

What do you think — are you from the South? Do you have any insight to add to the Time.com article about the causes of obesity in the region? Do you think it is fair — or useful — to single out a region when asking questions like the article asks? And if there are proven environmental causes of obesity, what should be done about them? Leave a comment below!



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