This past week, Time Magazine ran an article on why southerners are so fat. The article was in response to a new report showing Mississippi as the state with the highest rate of obesity for the fifth year in a row. The top five heaviest states are all in the south: Mississippi, West Virginia, Alabama, Lousiana, and South Carolina. The typical causes of obesity are all there: southerners tend to be poorer, so they have less money to buy nutritious food; southern food is greasy and fried; it’s too hot to exercise outdoors; the list goes on. But this article also included the fact that many southern towns lack access to public transportation, that many places lack sidewalks, and that there are few safe places to bike.
It’s refreshing to see a national publication tie the physical environment to obesity. Suburbs and more rural areas have typically been home to more overweight residents than central cities: by driving everywhere, you’re not getting the exercise you would be by walking to the bus stop, or biking down the block. Suburbs also have fewer destinations within walking distance: going to the grocery store or heading to the movies require car trips, rather than bike or walking trips. We’re lucky in the District that we have a great public transportation system, lots of sidewalks and crosswalks, and a growing system of bike lanes and paths– things that encourage us to lead more active lives. Because of that, we’re on average about 6 pounds lighter than our exurban counterparts.
So how does our area compare? Well, Washington DC (compared as a state, which is misleading for many reasons) is 40th on the list, meaning that our fair city has the tenth-lowest rate of adult obesity in the country. Our neighbors to the north and south are a little heavier: Maryland is 25th on the list, and Virginia is 23rd. But the news isn’t all good for DC: our city/state has the highest rate of childhood obesity, with over 1/5 of all children considered overweight. And the medical costs of obesity per capita are also the highest in the country, at $660 compared to the national average of $258 (again, this is probably somewhat misleading due to our city being compared alongside states). Check out the rest of DC’s profile to see how we’re doing in regards to other health indicators and public health preparedness.