Southerners Are Fatter? Maybe Not …

      47 Comments on Southerners Are Fatter? Maybe Not …

You’ve probably seen various versions of an “obesity map” like the one above.  Most of them show higher obesity rates in the South, which has led to a lot of tsk-tsking and speculation about possible reasons for the regional differences. TIME magazine ran an article in 2009 titled Why Are Southerners So Fat? that offered the usual explanations:   It could be all that southern-fried food with gravy.  Or perhaps obesity is just a marker for poverty, since more Southerners are poor.  Or maybe it’s that people living in the South don’t spend as much time outdoors in the summer because it’s too hot and humid. The problem might even be a lack of public transportation, according to the TIME reporter:

That’s another problem, by the way: the South doesn’t have many bus stops. Public transportation is paltry, and for most people, the best way to get around is by car. “You don’t really think of riding the train as exercise, but at least you have to walk a few blocks to get to the stop,” says Bassett. States like Mississippi and Tennessee also have a surprising lack of sidewalks, discouraging even the most eager pedestrians. Many roads are narrower than those in the North — where streets have wider shoulders to accommodate winter snow — and people who want to bike or jog find themselves uncomfortably close to traffic.

Poverty, fried food, humid weather, not enough sidewalks, too much sweet tea … take your pick.  But there’s another possible explanation that most of the obesity experts haven’t considered:

Those damned Yankees might just be a bunch of big fat liars.

Obesity rates are calculated by the Centers for Disease Control based on phone surveys.  According to a new study, people who answer those surveys might not be (surprise!) completely honest:

The South often gets tagged with having the most obese population.

But it doesn’t appear to be true, a University of Alabama at Birmingham study suggests.

The study recently published in the journal Obesity found that there’s a significantly higher percentage of obese people in a region of central and northwest states including Minnesota, Kansas and North and South Dakota.

“What we found is the West North Central region has about 41 percent obesity compared to 31 percent obesity in the southern region that includes Alabama and Mississippi,” said George Howard, professor in the Department of Biostatics at UAB. “By the way, 31 percent is not a good thing — but it’s not at the bottom.”

How did Southerners get such a fat reputation? Apparently because they are more truthful.

Yup.  The researchers found when they compared what people say they weigh versus what they actually weigh, the Northerners were more likely to … uh … underestimate their weight.  Men in the North were also more likely to overestimate their height, which reduces their calculated BMI.

Thanks to the inability of Northerners to accurately estimate their heights and weights, the regional data on obesity may not be relevant after all:

The study analyzed the weights in the nine geographic regions used by the U.S. Census Bureau.

It found that the West North Central region, which includes Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska and North and South Dakota, ranked fourth in obesity by the telephone survey results. But when actually weighed in the REGARDS study, people from that region ranked first in the nation for obesity.

In the telephone survey results, the East South Central region, which includes Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky, ranked highest. But when weighed, that southern region ranked fifth.

That’s fifth out of nine national regions, mind you.  As I wrote after we moved to Tennessee, I was surprised at how few obese people I saw in our immediate area.  I see a higher proportion of obese people in my hometown in Illinois than I do here, but I figured perhaps that’s because Franklin is in a prosperous part of Tennessee.

“It is hard to know exactly what is going on, but my speculation is that people in the South are telling the truth more,” Howard said. “Perhaps there is not as much stigma connected to obesity as say someone in California, or in this case, Minnesota.”

Oh, I don’t think it’s because Southerners are less ashamed of being fat, Dr. Howard.  I think it’s because more Northerners are less ashamed of being big fat liars. There are a lot more religious people in the South; perhaps they consider lying to the CDC to be a sin.  (I’m not religious, so I consider lying to government officials to be a patriotic duty.)  Sure, we grow some big fat liars in the South, but they tend to run for office, serve out their terms in Washington, then move to New York or California and write fictional autobiographies or make scary documentaries.

Anyway, since I’m sure the folks at TIME magazine wouldn’t want us to think they secretly enjoyed portraying the conservative South as a region populated by a bunch of fat Bubbas, I’m looking forward to their upcoming article, Why Northerners Are So Fat – And Why They Can’t Read A Scale.


47 thoughts on “Southerners Are Fatter? Maybe Not …

  1. Janelle

    In the immortal words of Marvin Gaye:

    “People say believe half of what you see,
    son, and none of what you hear.”

    A meme to live by.


  2. Amy Dungan

    People lie about their weight? The horror! And researchers wonder why we don’t take observational and self-reported data seriously.

    Who’da thunkit?

  3. Curmudgeon

    I live in the Twin Cities. If you have ever been to the MN State Fair, something like the 2nd or 3rd most attended state fair in the nation with 1.7 Million . . . It was difficult squaring the masses of obese and overweight seen everywhere with the supposed rank in the nation. Total cognitive dissonance. Now we can see those numbers were delusional (in more ways than one). Still, with regions this large variations within regions can be significant.

    Secondly, the regional bigotry of many Minnesotans towards southerners is open, unrestrained, and constant. Any restraint in the state government system is decried with pleading that it will end up turning Minnesota into a mirror of a Bible Belt state. Comical, I’m sure this does not amuse those folks.

    That’s hilarious. Our “bible belt” state has the third-lowest overall tax burden in the country but is running a surplus and attracting a lot of businesses. Is that something your fellow Minnesotans hope to avoid?

  4. johnny

    It seems like telephone surveys have become the gold standard for all research.

    Who monitors the telephone surveyors and/or responders for accuracy?

    Probably election judges from Chicago.

  5. alexandra

    Tom, this makes perfect sense. While booking in hundreds of inmates over many years I learned that the men pretty much always stretched the truth about their height. While being booked in, they didn’t realize that the pole they stood next to had height markings visible on my side only. We still asked them how tall they were and nearly without exception, men would add 2-3 inches to their height, We asked about weight too but didn’t actually weigh anyone but I was often pretty sure that the females, at least, tended to report lower numbers than were true.

    I’m 5’11’ and that’s the truth.

  6. Davida

    Someone linked to this on my fb page. I grew up in Virginia and have relatives in North Carolina. I responded: “Most Southerners see a little bit of extra weight as normal and ok, and even if they are more than a little bit overweight, tend to be ok with it and accept themselves and other overweight folks more. They will say something if they think a family member or close friend may be suffering from too much excess fat. They love their celebrity and gossip rag mags, but tend to see stars as running unrealistically thin.”

    I’ve lived in California and Illinois as well, and believe me, while Cali had its share of model/star wannabes, even down around Camp Pendleton, where we were, there were PLENTY of VERY overweight and obese people. In Illinois, too, were a number of very heavy people. But in both states there was more shame in being even just a little overweight. In cali it seemed to be taken as a personal failure, and in Illinois…I don’t know…. some there… those from the area, at least…. some of them seemed to see it as a personal failure, but going further, as being even somewhat a moral failure. Not only that, but in both those states, people seem to revel in helping a person to cheat on any weight loss program they decided to go on. It was odd. In the South, at least the South I grew up in, aside from accepting higher weights as being normal, they’d support someone who had to lose weight for health reasons. Friends and family would, asking what would help the person stick to their weight loss program best, etc. I don’t know… it’s just one Midwest state and one out west state compared to the two southern states I’m most familiar with, but that’s what it seems like to me.

    And if they see it as a personal failure, they’re probably more likely to lie about their weight, even to a stranger on the phone.

    1. Cyborcat

      Interesting. When I lived in Sacramento, I didn’t notice there being many obese people, but I see more of them now that I live in Memphis.

      But I will admit that it’s been 8 years and I’m a lot more health conscious than I used to be, so it could be that I’m just more prone to noticing it now or that my view of what is and isn’t overweight has changed.

      There do seem to be obesity clusters. Like I noted, I see a lot of obese people in my hometown in Illinois. When we were moving here, we passed through a small town in Arkansas where danged near everyone seemed to be fat.

  7. Miriam

    I’m going to take the religious angle as probably making the difference here. Having grown up in Tennessse and now living abroad, with all my family now in the Northeast or Northwest, I have seen some differences.

    People in the south are more serious, as a general group, about their Christian faith. Protestant Christianity forbids lying because God is truth: therefore His people, who are commanded to be like Him, are to be truthful. (I can’t speak to the reasons Catholicism condemns lying. I’m not sure, but since Southerners are overwhelmingly Protestant…) Obviously everyone fails at times no matter what their intentions–but if you truly believe that you have a moral obligation to truth at all times, that’s going to be in your mind when the idiot surveyor calls to ask you how fat you are. If you view truthfulness as a pragmatic thing–sort of good for society in general maybe, or good for you personally so people will view you as a trustworthy person, but we all just kind of choose for ourselves when lying is ok (perhaps when we judge no one will get hurt)–then there’s really no reason NOT to lie to the surveyor idiot when he calls. Might as well make yourself look good.

    And that’s another factor influenced by religion. Christianity teaches that Christians are to be concerned more with God’s opinion of them than the opinion of others, so long as they are doing what God says is morally right. So how does that affect how you look at your obesity? Well, are there obese people who stuff themselves with Little Debbie Snack Cakes in the dark and just don’t care? Sure. But there’s also plenty like I was: I did not feel ashamed in the sense of feeling it was a moral failing on my part. I knew I was not gluttonous. I knew I was being faithful to take as good care of myself and my body as I knew how. I exercised, I counted calories, I ate lots of whole grains, I ate restricted amounts in general and especially fat and sugar. I felt sad and humiliated by my size, but I did not feel guilty or as if I had to justify myself to anyone. I wonder if in the South you have more people who don’t see the need to lie to someone at the CDC about their weight, because they know they are doing what is morally right and therefore don’t feel guilt. They honestly just care less what the surveyor thinks.

    In my time with people in the South, I feel like they seem to have less guilt about their weight. It’s more a mysterious thing that they can’t explain, an affliction that won’t respond to all the treatments they throw at it. They don’t like it, they work on it, but they don’t let it get in the way of family, friends and life. And when they do get together, you don’t see anyone porking out without some teasing and comments.

    I seem to meet more people in the North who see being obese, in and of itself, as a “sin,” even if they don’t believe in a God setting objective standards of sin. No matter how much they diet, they didn’t work hard enough so they are at fault. In fact, I often see the interesting phenomenon of young people who view lying and sex outside of marriage as perfectly normal behavior; but smoking and eating red meat and not recycling are sins for which there should be some kind of immediate judgment. It’s interesting to me, because their great-grandmothers would probably have been horrified (as they sat around smoking) to know their great-granddaughters are sitting around joking about how they lied to avoid something they were obligated to do and think nothing of hopping into bed with a string of men until their marriage. Meanwhile, their great-granddaughters mock their ancestors’ stodgy old Puritanical standards, but harshly judge them for smoking so much and eating all those eggs and destroying the environment by inventing cars.

    I agree that many people see obesity as a moral issue. It isn’t. It’s a biochemical issue.

    1. Namu

      “I seem to meet more people in the North who see being obese, in and of itself, as a “sin,” even if they don’t believe in a God setting objective standards of sin.”
      I’d say, *especially* if they do not believe in a deity – in my experience atheists tend to give way too much importance to ‘objective’ criterions of morality, be they about wealth, health, ideology or whatever.

      This makes battling the common wisdow unnecessarily harder than it should be. When you deny any moral value to individual weight, they take it as a personal insult or attack on their values. Advocating that we should be eating more fat ? You’re basically a satanist in their eye.

  8. JasonG

    Wow Miriam, you hit the nail on the head. I find the hypocrisy maddening when people who lie, cheat, drink, and smoke weed, also stick up their noses at any cigarette smoker who eats meat and doesn’t recycle. They preach love for the environment and anger towards inconsiderate corporations with their “chemical pollutants. Meanwhile they use their own own drugs. They urge others to buy American products yet they would never drive a Ford or Chevy.

    These type of people scare me. These people represent the ideal type of a liberal. They constantly come up with impractical ideas to save the world. “Let’s make others do this!” “Let’s ban sugar in drinks!” “Let’s get everyone to stop using plastic bags!” “Let’s protect dumb fat people from themselves!”

    I once commented to a liberal on how Michelle Obama’s school eating program is bad, especially when kids don’t require one-size-fits-all nutrition. Don’t parents know better? He said, “It’s a good idea.” I am flabbergasted at his smug response. He pats himself on the back and think the world is a better place. This person likes to place himself above others because he is smarter, more disciplined, and more willing to force others to be good people. There is no room for disagreeing with him because he’ll force it anyway.

    I guess other people have been raised with a completely different set of moral values. I am tolerant of others who are not actively harming me, and I do not force others to stop doing what I dislike. These American values seem to be increasingly rare.

    For a full and illuminating explanation of that mindset, pick up a copy of Thomas Sowell’s book “The Vision of the Anointed.”

    1. BillP

      And of course, we all know that ‘conservatives’ don’t make any of these same errors…

      I believe you’re missing the point. Our media don’t stereotype liberals as stupid.

    2. tracker

      “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” -CS Lewis

      Notice CS Lewis didn’t point to a particular ideology. ANY ideology is bad when forced on others.

      That’s what Eric Hoffer wrote about in “The True Believer.”

    3. JillOz

      I saw some photos of Mobama’s “nutrition” served up at schools. It didn’t look like food let alone nutrition, and it was sure as heck very far away from the delicious healthy food her kids were getting at their school.

  9. Elenor

    I still remember the astonishing — liberating! — reaction I had to my first read-through of Gary Taubes’ “Good Calories, Bad Calories.” Not religious at all, but I certainly viewed myself as a “moral failure.” (And being a Northern-raised female, I absolutely lied about my weight, but not my height! {wink}) Like so many, I blamed myself for not being strict-enough, disciplined enough, *good*-enough, to actually lose weight — on my mainly carb and meat diet… (I still struggle with that! If I’m not thin, I’m not “good.”)

    The idea that my biochemistry could be off?!?! Heresy! I used to wistfully WISH it could be true that it was thyroid… because then it wouldn’t be a moral failing (and maybe could be cured!?). But I bought 100% the: “yeah, yeah, EVERY fat person claims a bad thyroid and it’s almost never true.” This, even while I woke every morning thinking some guy with a bat had been after my kidneys overnight, and I woke up every morning at 3. (Hello? ADRENALS!) And I was wildly hyper-sensitive to light and noise till after my coffee, when I became merely hyper-sensitive. It was like I was hung-over, EVERY morning!) (Coffee whacks the adrenals to perform…beatin’ a dying horse anyone?) But — no, no: *I* was a bad fat person… (And it turns out nearly every fat person DOES have a thyroid problem!)

    I still struggle with the idea that now that I understand the biochemistry — and have treated, very successfully, my thyroid and adrenals (well, not sure how successfully/completely; the guy with the bat is gone, but the weight isn’t! Yet.) “If only” I were better, I’d BE better… But, I don’t stress myself about it (too much). Slow adjustments to as much healthy eating as I can manage, and my body will continue to heal.

    I used to look enviously at folks who had an immediate bad reaction to wheat, because I saw it as a kind-of built-in policeman: “if only *I* had a bad reaction to wheat, it would be easier to avoid it.” (I’m a life-long pasta addict. Don’t care for sweets, lived for 40 years on mainly pasta!) Now that I almost never have wheat; when I do, my carpal tunnel comes roaring back (within an hour or so!), my ‘arthritis’ in my hips returns, and I can see the inflammation/diminution of my immune system (often by cuticle infections; a symptom of glucose problems). It DOES help me to avoid it, but of course… it’s a “moral failing” when I do have wheat. {sigh}

    (Sorry I rambled on so long, Tom…) One step at a time, one day… one MEAL … at a time!

    Rambling is allowed and encouraged. I had the same “aha” moments when reading Good Calories, Bad Calories. Now when I look at an obese person, I know I’m probably looking at someone with a dis-regulated metabolism who is starving inside.

  10. S Andrei Ostric

    I agree with you Tom. I have seen many more obese people in Illinois than driving through and staying in the South.

    But I see you didn’t really mention one of the main reasons for these findings, or reporting this data the way it has been reported. Media Bias. The fact is poor white southerners are the last group of people you can make fun of without subjecting yourself to being called a racist, intolerant, or an anti-“insert category here” I think that definitely plays into how this data was presented.

    I believe in science, Tom, without a doubt, but the fact is a lot people use it a surrogate to impose their views on how the world should be.

    That the whole obesity argument of the ‘well meaning’ crowd of folks who just want to do things ‘for your own good’, isn’t it?

    I mean when you have ‘science’ (especially questionable interpretations from questionably obtained data) allowing you to infer what is ‘bad for you’ and how you should live to be ‘healthy’, and the government subsequently backing that in the form of using force or socialized medicine, how far of a stretch is it to see a world where a government bureaucracy tells you ‘well, since you are fat, and we don’t like it, and we pay for your health-care, that we need to tell you how to act and live and eat…”?

    This is also the argument that is promulgated that ‘meat eaters’ are destroying the environment–except of course, Mark Bittman because he is has thought about it so deeply, and will happily fly 200,000 miles a year giving lectures about it…

    That is what is most worrisome to me because you are already seeing hints of that with Bloomberg and others who use this line of reasoning that since you don’t pay for your health care, or you become a cost to society, then you can’t make decisions for yourself, and we will have to make them for you.

    My comedian friend Tim Slagle predicted 20 years ago that once government is “paying” for our health care (with money they took from us in the first place), that will become the excuse to take away more and more freedom … well, it’s a health-care issue, ya see, and we’re PAYING for your health care, so we can make you behave as we see fit.

    By the way, Tim still performs regularly in the Chicago area. You should look for one of his shows. I think you’d love his act.

    1. S Andrei Ostric

      I think I understand why the totalitarians…um…I mean progressives or liberals or whatever they call themselves, have always been so interested in providing healthcare to people.

      It really is all about control because, as Tim says and we are seeing more and more, how far of a stretch is it to say: well now we need to control what you eat and what your behaviors are.

      I don’t know what disturbs me more. That fact about ‘socialized’ healthcare or the people who think the solution is to nationalize Coca-cola and create more government bureaucracy.

      Need to look out for Tim…There is a comedy club called the Laughing Chameleon where I live. I will have to see if he is performing there.

  11. Phyllis Mueller

    I guess it shouldn’t surprise me, given the number of unidentified telephone calls we receive every day, that some of them are from people trying to collect data. But if someone had asked me “How does the CDC get information about how much people weigh?” I would have thought records from hospitals and public health clinics, doctors’ offices, schools, prisons–you know, places where people were actually measured–not random telephone surveys. Or perhaps driver’s license data (where it’s possible to lie, but not egregiously).

    I was intrigued by the Diet Doctor posting yesterday looking at correlations in the United States between altitude and weight. How might altitude and lying (or truthfulness) be related? Hmmmm.

    Perhaps in a higher altitude, your brain is starved of oxygen and the don’t-lie part of the brain stops working.

  12. Phyllis Mueller

    * Correction * The link to the altitude/obesity map was on Mark’s Daily Apple, not Diet Doctor.

  13. Jordan

    Just looking at the map alone raises red flags about the quality of the data. There are sudden shifts across state lines from Oklahoma/Louisiana to Texas, Kansas/Nebraska to Colorado, and Kentucky/Missouri into Illinois. These clean and sudden breaks along state lines are incredibly difficult for me to believe as I’ve crossed some of these state borders several times and have seen no sudden shift in culture to reflect the data that this map presents.

    Good point.

  14. Marilyn

    Good grief! Just now I went to Amazon to see if there might be some information about a future publication date for “Fat Fast Cookbook.” Amazon listed the Kindle edition of FFC, then immediately following, offered me a string of books by the extreme low-fat vegan crowd.

    It’s an “area of interest” grouping, I guess.

    1. Walter Bushell

      RE: _Fat Fast_ and Amazon

      “Fat Fast”-> What did you expect than low fat vegan, obviously you wanted to abstain from fat. Most Americans would have made that connection.

  15. Janet

    Personally, I have made a game of the “serious business of data collection”.
    Each time I go to a doctor’s office, the medical assistant’s intake includes four standard questions. How tall are you? Do you smoke? Do you have diabetes? Have you fallen in the last 6 months?
    I have been everywhere to 5’1″ to 5’8″ in the same doc’s office and never been questioned (with them looking at me). I alternate smoking and not smoking (without comment or follow up questions). Do I have diabetes? How would I know that? This doc has never checked for that in 3 years seeing him, so I wouldn’t know that and neither would he, so I alternate these answers too. Have I fallen in the last six months? Why yes I have, and I want one of those electric scooters, special shoes, a walk-in jetted bath tub, and emergency call/rescue system (all for free of course).

    I long ago decided that the doc’s office was getting some compensation from multiple entities for collecting this data from a patient there for an earache or skin rash. None of my answers impacted my diagnosis or treatment. I decided to just have fun with those marketing people’s “scientific research”. I do get multiple mailings after seeing the doc for diabetic supplies, handicap accessible tubs, scooters, and emergency call systems. Connected? Nah, couldn’t be, or could it?

    The feds want healthcare providers to turn BMI and other figures over to them, so yes, lie whenever possible.

  16. Susan

    Clearly, based on this map, we should all move to Colorado. There’s obviously something there keeping the fat away.

    1. Carolyn

      I lived in Colorado and now I live in Nebraska. Yes, for some reason there seems to be more obese people in Nebraska than Colorado. I am not sure why. Are healthier people drawn to Colorado? It is sunny there year round and dry. The temperatures around the mountain range vary quite a bit during a 24-hour period and if you are hot in the plains you can head to the cooler temps in the mountains in less than 2 hours. And the air has less oxygen. That is why olympic athletes train in Colorado. There are hiking trails and bike paths everywhere. Coloradans favorite food: steak! There is a great steakhouse in every town. Colorado also has a lot of military people that are supposed to be in better shape. There are four bases in Colorado that I know of. Coloradans like to have fun and play. My brother lives in Colorado Springs: he bikes to work, goes rock climbing, flies kites, and hikes. In Colorado, weekends are for enjoying the great outdoors. If it snows, so what, you get to go skiing.

      1. Carolyn

        Another thought: there seems to be 3 kinds of Coloradans: conservative military who have to stay in shape, liberal health freaks, and the rich who enjoy their mountain recreation. All of them enjoy Colorado’s gorgeous weather and ski resorts.

        1. Lori

          There’s also a MEPS in Denver. Even so, that’s probably a few thousand military people out of a state population of 5 million. And a lot of military folks are pretty chunky.

          I agree with the food choices–in the seven miles between work and home (we’re talking about an urban area), I can only think of one bakery and a few pizza/pasta places. Lots of places with “grill” in the name, though, and 7-11 serves hot wings.

          So yes–there are several nudges in the right direction here.

      2. big papa smurf

        Used to live in Kansas myself and now live in Denver. Simple fact I think is that there is more to do in Colorado. Lots of outdoor activities and it doesn’t get hot as the hubs of hell during the summer. Winter of course has its own benefits.
        I also believe that thinner air, requires more calories spent during normal activity since you don’t get as much oxygen.

    2. Lori

      A lot of fit people move to Colorado for the lifestyle: skiing, hundreds of miles of bike trails in Denver, over 300 sunny days a year, and winters that are lot milder than most people imagine. And a lot of Californians have moved here over the past 20 years for our lower cost of living.

      A few cultural factors in our favor: people don’t tend to dip food in batter or put sugar in their tea. Here in Denver, hot dog stands and trucks that serve real food are a lot more common than ice cream trucks and the like. Pushing people to eat things they don’t want to eat generally isn’t done. We do a lot of barbecuing; I’ve even smelled it in the middle of winter.

      But for all that goodness, you’re more likely to kill yourself if you live here–the West in general has the highest suicide rate in the US.

      I don’t think every state figure is wrong. I suspect the obesity rate in California is also really and truly lower than in most states for the same reason: it’s a state that attracts a lot of people who want to enjoy the warm weather and the great outdoors.

  17. Chris

    I think S. Andrei hit the nail on the head. I been trying to make the exact same argument to friends who in various ways claim to dislike increasing government involvement in our lives, but who support Obamacare. I read a story about a town in Japan where the public health department required all residents to come in and get their waist size measured, and if your waist circumference was over a certain amount, you got fined. Make no mistake, similar things will happen here under Obamacare.

    People willing to give up freedom for security deserve neither and will lose both. (Paraphrasing Benjamin Franklin).

    1. Namu

      In a sensible world, the health department officials would be the ones fined for every overweight person.

      I like that idea better.

  18. David

    I do live outside Atlanta and I do have to agree that public transportation really sucks. Only inside the perimeter (285 bypass) has all the public transportation of the MARTA and the Cobb County Transit around me isn’t great. But most people seem to want to drive anyways and so it leaves room for people like me anytime I go to the city to just walk while everyone sits in traffic. But I definetely agree that phone surveys are unreliable.

  19. George Wilson

    Maybe the Upper Midwest has more of those scales that tell you how tall you are based on how much you weigh :), “Gee Olly, this scale says if I weigh this much I am 6’8″!”

    I don’t own a scale, but I buy another one, it will be one of those.

  20. Marilyn

    @ Jordan. Yes, and did you notice that the entire state of Colorado is one color? What about Alaska? How could everyone there be overweight? Unless people were weighed with all their heavy coats on.

  21. Marilyn

    @Chris. I understand that some very good doctors’ submissions for payment are currently not being paid, either by insurance companies or medicare. Just another aspect of this whole mess.

  22. Drew @ Willpower Is For Fat People

    Wait a second, are you saying that a national magazine is going to find out that they were wrong, and you think they’re going to change their position to match the facts?

    Well, moving to Tennessee doesn’t seem to have made you any smarter. 😛

    I’m a wild dreamer at times.

  23. BobG

    Well, whatever else is true, the Northeast is still the least obese section of the country, so suck it, fatties 😉

    Seriously, I would like to see the methodology details of the REGARDS study. Clearly they didn’t weigh & measure each person who responded to a CDC phone survey about weight and height – so how did they get their random representative sample?

    Phone surveys are a good way to randomize, but they definitely introduce a selection bias – you’re only getting data from people willing to tell a stranger how much they weigh, so both skinny people AND liars might be over-represented, due to truthful lipido-Americans declining to answer.

    I’m guessing they compared phone-survey data for each region to actual weigh-in data for each region. But you’d have to weigh a LOT of people to have a good sample, and as you noted, it would have to be a random sample.

  24. BobG

    I don’t have any PubMed-type subscriptions, but one thing that jumps out at me from the summary of the REGARDS study is that one of its selection criteria for participants is “age >= 45.” (

    The CDC phone surveys, on the other hand, are of adults, 18+.

    So if (and I have no idea if this is true or likely) obesity happens to skew younger in the South than in the Midwest, the REGARDS study would under-represent it.

    It’d definitely be interesting to see a breakdown of the CDC’s numbers by region AND by age – compare apples to apples (or McDonald’s Hot Apple Pies to McDonald’s Hot Apple Pies…)

    My guess is that all this data is iffy. They could have, however, compared CDC data for over people over 45 to REGARDS data to determine how phone-survey data compared to weigh-in data.

  25. hausfrau

    I just have to bring up my visit with a hospital dietician for gestational diabetes. I took out the calculator after my visit. The dietician wanted me to eat 200 grams of carbs a day. Up to 60 grams per meal with at least 3 snacks of 15 grams each. I told her straight out I had no intention of following her diet, that I thought a sugar based diet for a diabetic was insane. Even my obgyn encouraged me to stay with my usual low carb diet. My diabetic parents recently visited to see our new little boy and my dad was really impressed that his morning blood sugar was routinely below 100. I don’t get my hopes up in reforming their diet though. My mom, who buys the groceries and cooks the meals, knows the benefits of a low carb diet and talks a good game but she would much rather make excuses and take a pill. Unfortunately not eating nutritional crap requires a lot of work.

    Well, if people know what they should do but don’t, that’s their business. My sympathies are for those who try to do the right thing but are given lousy advice.

  26. Marilyn

    @hausfrau: Having hovered for quite some time around 75 grams of carbs/day, I look at your hospital dietitian’s diet and all I can think of is how much WORK it would be to eat like THAT!

  27. Jane

    I’ve seen that map before, but they were associating weight with altitude with lower altitudes being heavier. You lay one map on top of the other and you can’t help but think they are on to something that is a contributing factor.

  28. Bruno

    The south also, for the most part, includes far greater populations of blacks and Latinos(specifically, from Mexico, whose inhabitants tend to be shorter and plumper than average).

    I will say that urban populations probably are thinner, and that may be because they are in close contact with other people almost continuously, and may be more conscious of their appearance. They also may walk more, though their activity levels beyond getting to/from places is nil. (not many wood choppin’ chore-doin’ NYC’ers).


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