What region in the US is the fattest? We used to assume it was the South, but Southern researchers dispute that–they say it’s the Midwest.
Statistician George Howard says, "The obesity epidemic is overwhelming the US, and there’s this strong perception that Mississippi and Alabama are number one and number two in obesity–fighting for fattest place. We were thinking since people living in the South are generally more hypertensive and have higher rates of diabetes and stroke, it would be the fattest region, but when we looked at our data, people in the South were really not the fattest."
He says that the West North Central part of the country, which includes North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri, is the fattest area, with a 41% obese population. But it’s hard to get the right data to crunch: "Asking someone how much they weigh is probably the second worst question behind how much money they make. From past research, we know that women tend to underreport their weight, and men tend to over-report their height. This suggests that people from the South come closer to telling the truth than people from other regions, perhaps because there’s not the social stigma of being obese in the South as there is in other regions."
It’s important that obesity rankings be correct, since a lot rides on these numbers. Howard says, "A lot of decisions are based on geographic differences in obesity–such as how much federal funding goes to regions to fight obesity. Typically, the South has received the most because others have said it’s the fattest, but it might not be. The South has had very bad obesity problems, but not worse than some other regions."
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