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F as in Fat

Once again this year, the Trust for America's Health has released a state-by-state study of obesity in America, called "F as in Fat: How Obesity Policies are Failing in America."

Just like last year, Colorado is the least obese state. It's also the least fat state, when you combine the percentage of obese and overweight people together. Presumably this is due in part to Coloradans' higher level of physical activity, although the study doesn't try to explain each state's ranking.

Mississippi is the fattest state, and every Southern state except Florida is among the fattest in the country. Florida is ranked 38th. Again, the study doesn't presume to explain this, but most readers might reasonably conclude that culture is part of it: sedentary habits are less frowned upon in the South than they are in Colorado.

However, Colorado shouldn't pat itself on the back too much over this. It, along with 48 other states, are fatter than they were last year (Oregon is the only state that stayed the same). As the study points out, there are plenty of ways that state governments can act to combat obesity, but most states aren't doing very much. They're not doing much to fight suburban sprawl, or to close the urban grocery gap, or to ensure that school lunches are nutritious.

If we weren't all collectively paying for the obesity epidemic in higher health care costs, I suppose we could forgive state governments (like Colorado's) for acting as if this were all just a matter of the free market -- people like the suburbs, they prefer to drive instead of walk, and they want to sit on their ass all day watching TV and eating potato chips. But of course obesity and related conditions like diabetes affect all of us, and appropriately so. We all pay higher health care fees, taxes, and insurance premiums to ensure that the obese among us are treated when they suffer heart attacks or when their blood sugar gets out of control. That's why they call us a civilized society, as opposed to a barbaric one.

States very much ought to be in the business of reducing the rates of obesity by encouraging people to get off their ass. They could start by encouraging the creation of neighborhoods where people can walk to stores that sell healthy food, rather than encouraging developers to build thousands of homes that are many miles and several eight-lane highways away from the nearest Wal-Mart. Shit, if I lived in one of those neighborhoods I'd find it hard not to slowly blimp up, too. We shouldn't have to depend on just the willpower of hundreds of millions of Americans to lose weight.

Governments need to get up off of their ass just like the rest of us, and stop pretending that this public health crisis is an unavoidable consequence of "free markets" or worse, a reward for our high standard of living. These days, the poorest of us, who are least able to enter the market and buy health-club memberships and $3000 racing bicycles, are the fattest people around. They're often subject to government policies that lead to inadequate education and limit their food choices to highly-processed swag. They aren't victims, and they're responsible for their own cable-TV-watching habits, but just like the rest of us they have to live in a community that makes some choices seem easier than others.

The problem is, our community has collectively decided to encourage behavior that leads to obesity. That's why we're a nation of porkers. Colorado shouldn't pat itself on the back just because a whole lot of runners, cyclists, kayakers, and climbers with a little extra cash decided that dry air, bright sunshine, and big mountains made it a good state to live in.


I don't think our problem with skyrocketing weight will get better until we give up the idea that "just work out and eat better" is an available solution for the majority of the nation. Increased exercise can only come from changes to lifestyle: increased walking, primarily, which requires structural changes to our neighborhoods. Exercise for exercise's sake is purely the provenance of the wealthy.

I'm still struggling to lose my pregnancy weight, and I have every advantage that there is. I'm educated as to what foods are good. I have high quality vegetables, fruits, nuts, and meats available to me. I am married and can pay for a gym with childcare so that I have the time needed to work out. I can afford to buy new clothes as I get smaller.

If I have such a hard time, what hope is there for those who don't have access to even one of the benefits I have?

Hm. Your blog ate my comment, I think.

I agree with you (about the skyrocketing weight, if not the comment-devouring blog). That's what I mean about the folly of depending on willpower alone to solve our obesity epidemic. It's not gonna happen.

If you're finding it difficult to lose the weight, then we'll all need some help from better public policies vis-a-vis urban planning, tax incentives, architecture, agricultural policy, etc.

(p.s.: Although I wish you luck with the weight, I hope you're focusing primarily on health and fitness as the real goals, and on weight only as a proxy for these...)

Yes, for fitness/health. I usually don't weigh myself, and was shocked when I finally did to see how much weight I had retained from pregnancy.

Interestingly, my health doesn't seem to have been negatively affected. My BP and cholesterol measures are excellent. However, I miss being able to take off on a hard hike without huffing and puffing. Plus, I miss good clothes!