Wednesday, March 3, 2010

What America's Most Obese Metro Areas Have in Common

Today an article authored by Elizabeth Mendes discussed the results of a recent poll administered by Gallup and Healthways. The Gallup and Healthways survey, administered in 2008, looked at 187 large metroplitian areas and their rates of obesity. After conducting the survey they whittled down the information to look at the ten metropolitan areas with the highest obesity rates and looked for commonalities within the data. What is driving obesity in these areas?

The findings are not surprising - "Gallup and Healthways measure healthy behaviors in the United States by combining four metrics measuring Americans' eating, exercise, and smoking habits into the Healthy Behaviors Index. ...all of the 10 most obese metro areas fall within the bottom two-thirds of all areas surveyed for frequent exercise. In terms of eating habits, of the 10 most obese places, seven are in the bottom two-thirds among all metro areas for reporting eating healthy "yesterday" and for fruit and vegetable consumption."

However they are kind enough to unpack the data, if only slightly, for us. "Eight of the 10 most obese areas rank in the bottom two-thirds of all places measured in terms of easy access to fruits and vegetables and nine rank in the bottom two-thirds for having a safe place to exercise. Seven of the 10 most obese metro areas are among the bottom 25 places where residents say that there have been times in the past 12 months when they did not have enough money to buy food for themselves or their family."

The article leads to the logical conclusion that obese people (each of these 10 cities has obesity rates greater than 33%) do not eat the prescribed (USDA) amount of fruits and vegetables, do not make healthy eating choices, and they are excercising at far lower rates than the average American. However, according to the survey, they have less access to healthy food, a real or percieved inability to access safe places for excercise, and often lack the money to purchase healthy food on a regular basis.

Hard to access healthy foods + Lack of money to purchase food for basic nutrition + Lack of access to safe excercise locations = Less excercise + Poor Nutrition = OBESITY

I can say with confidence that these problems are not unique to our ten most obese metropolian areas, rather, these figures could be found by surveying many of the low income neighborhoods within healthier cities. Obesity and lack of access to healthy foods have huge costs and will need many solutions. I'm excited to work with GREENLEAF students at the Denver Venture School to discuss these issues, the impacts in their communities and to brainstorm, advocate, and participate with students to create solutions. It is time to tap our youths knowledge and insight as we move forward in addressing these problems.

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