Obesity has become an epidemic in the United States, even more so in the deeply rooted southern portion of this country. Mississippi in particular is a state that has recently breached the 35% mark, edging its way to the top of the obesity rates in the United States.
The reason for this is complex, there are many factors that are thought to the blame for this, four in particular. The south has suffered from crippling unemployment rates. With a poverty rate just over 24% one in every five people live below the poverty line, struggling to put meals on the table for their families. This causes them to turn to unhealthy substitutes like fast food; as has raised obesity rates consequently.
However, poverty isn’t the only factor to blame. The education in these states is below par at best. After examining the health education classes that each state offers via the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE), I found that Mississippi hadn’t implemented health education classes until 2007, nearly 16 years after Virginia and other states had (NASBE). These education classes that are often looked down on by students have a clear benefit. They teach students the importance of watching over their health, and warn about the impending dangers of obesity.
These states also suffer from a lack of overall education. In the state of Tennessee nearly 500 people for every 100,000 have a bachelor’s degree, while in Virginia roughly 650 for every 100,000 have a bachelor’s degree. A college education is an investment, the benefits outweigh the cost of attending by nearly one million dollars. This lack of education throws people back into the poverty trap and brings obesity with it. In the charts below you see that high school graduates in Mississippi is slightly above the national average but as you go on to college graduates that number decreases. While in Virginia you see the exact opposite, the number of college graduates is significantly higher than the national average.
Other invariable factors have been rumored to be a link to obesity, such as climate. A study conducted by University of Texas at Austin professors attempted to prove that states that are hot in the summer or cold in the winter showed to have higher obesity rates (Von Hippel, Benson). But this study doesn’t seem conclusive because states that are cold during the winter (Northern states) tend to have low obesity rates as well. This rules out the accusation that coldness has an effect on obesity. But it also doesn’t make sense to say that the heat is responsible because other southern states or hot states in general sit towards the low end of obesity. So, in conclusion, weather cannot be related to obesity rates at all.
Culture changes from place to place, and helps to form the ideals that each state has, the south is no different. The south is often emulated for its food, just look at Paula Deen, who has made a living off of preparing fattening traditional southern dishes. Or the numerous chain restaurants that cater to southern cuisine like cracker barrel for example. The south is the home of deep frying food: deep frying everything from pickles to catfish and of course chicken. This culture that the south has is without a doubt a huge reason for the obesity epidemic. Frying a piece of chicken adds nearly 200 unneeded calories to it, and the sweet drinks and desserts adds even more.
The obesity epidemic is much more complicated than blaming the school system for not demanding enough health education classes, or the southern culture for setting unhealthy norms. It’s a conglomerate of all of these: poverty, education, and culture all paved the way for unrivaled obesity rates.
Below is a video that I found after conducting all of my research.