Louisiana Has Highest Obesity Rate

weight scaleThere are plenty of things we’d all love to be number one in. Being the most obese state isn’t one of them. Such is the case for Louisiana, which recently passed Mississippi in this dubious distinction.

While a 2010 national survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that overall obesity levels have leveled off in recent years, the rate for adults in Louisiana grew quickly enough to surpass Mississippi.

The survey found a 31 percent obesity rate in Louisiana in 2010, significantly lower than the 34 percent rate in Mississippi. But two years later, the rate has increased to 34.7 percent.

The CDC, like most in the healthcare industry, defines obesity based upon a person’s Body Mass Index (BMI). The number is calculated from a person’s weight and height. If you are an adult and have a BMI between 25 and 29.9, you are overweight. A BMI of 30 or greater is considered obese. If someone has a BMI over 40, they are morbidly obese and may qualify for bariatric surgery.

What’s striking is that, while Louisiana leads all states in obesity, the top 13 states are all either in the South or Midwest. At least 30 percent of adults were obese in Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia.

With such a glaring cluster, it begs the question of why does our region battle obesity at a significantly higher rate than the rest of the country? One strong argument is poverty. According to a 2011 US Census report, Louisiana’s 21.1 percent poverty rate is only second to New Mexico’s 22.1 percent. If you look at the map below, the higher rates are mostly in the South.

poverty rate map

The main argument that connects poverty and obesity is that poor people tend to buy the cheapest foods, which also happen to be high in salt, sugar and fat, and are highly processed. A recipe for dietary disaster, for sure.

Obviously poverty is only one potential cause for obesity. There are cultural differences across the country, particularly in the kinds of foods we enjoy. Stereotypical Southern cuisine, while often delicious, isn’t known for low calorie ingredients and serving sizes.

On average, most Americans live busier lives that often involve sedentary lifestyles. Besides the drop in physical activity after the technological revolution, being busier gives us less time to exercise and learn more about proper nutrition. All of this leads to stress, yet another well-known factor in weight gain.

In order to qualify for bariatric surgery, you must be physically and psychologically ready for it. There are some surprisingly simple adjustments to your eating and activity levels that can do wonders in this regard.

There’s growing evidence that it’s not so much how long you exercise in one session, but the accumulation of that time. So if a 30 minute brisk walk is not ideal, do one 15 minute walk in the morning and one in the evening.

While nutrition and exercise are both important for optimal health, the beauty of exercise is its residual effects, including a boost in your metabolism and hormones that affect mood and even our sense of hunger. In other words, exercise can make you feel better about yourself and can have an impact on the way you eat, since serotonin influences our appetite.

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