MuniLand

JumboAmerica

By Cate Long
July 8, 2011

Are we JumboAmerica?  That is to say, has America succumbed to gluttony and sloth?

These questions, though rhetorical, are important since we have impossibly high obesity rates in this country and spend 17% of our GDP on health care. A new national system, Obamacare, will expand access to health care, but it does nothing to address the obesity epidemic among the poor.

Yesterday Phil Izzo of the Wall Street Journal reported on an important study that addressed poverty and obesity (emphasis mine):

Adult obesity rates increased in 16 states in the past year and did not decline in any state, according to F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2011, a report from the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Twelve states now have obesity rates above 30 percent. Four years ago, only one state was above 30 percent.

JumboAmerica is getting fatter, and it’s causing a host of health problems, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. These are expensive diseases to treat when they get out of control. Low-income people are covered under Medicaid, but Medicaid is the number one fiscal concern for state governments. I mean no disrespect to the obese, but it costs a lot to help overweight, poor citizens.

Of course, the discussion has racial and socio-economic dimensions. More from the F as in Fat report:

Racial and ethnic minority adults, and those with less education or who make less money, continue to have the highest overall obesity rates:

  • Adult obesity rates for Blacks topped 40 percent in 15 states, 35 percent in 35 states, and 30 percent in 42 states and D.C.
  • Rates of adult obesity among Latinos were above 35 percent in four states (Mississippi, North Dakota, South Carolina, and Texas) and at least 30 percent in 23 states.
  • Meanwhile, rates of adult obesity for Whites topped 30 percent in just four states (Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, and West Virginia) and no state had a rate higher than 32.1 percent.
  • Nearly 33 percent of adults who did not graduate high school are obese, compared with 21.5 percent of those who graduated from college or technical college.

More than 33 percent of adults who earn less than $15,000 per year were obese, compared with 24.6 percent of those who earn at least $50,000 per year.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has a great map showing the gap in diabetes testing for people with low-income (under $15,000) compared to high-income ($50,000 or more).

(Red is less testing than average for low income people, yellow matches the standard and green is above average amount of testing for low income people.)

It’s no surprise that the poor are not getting tested as much as people with means. We know what this leads to: more complex and expensive health care down the road.

When I (@cate_long) tweeted out my idea for this post to ask for recommendations, I was astounded at the breadth and intelligence of suggestions I got. This is a deep and complex problem that extends from low-income people having very little access to fresh foods, excess soda consumption, cultural norms and lack of education. There is much too explore here, but the baseline truth is that the poor in our nation are overweight and increasingly unhealthy. This is a public issue and surprisingly gets very little attention and creative problem-solving. It’s time to turn that around and  shrink JumboAmerica.

Further:

US Department of Health and Human Services: 2010 State Snapshots

UCSF’s Osher Center for Integrative Medicine: Sugar: The Bitter Truth

The New Yorker: The Poverty Clinic

Change.org: Why Home Economics Classes Should Be Mandatory

Good: The United States Is a Food Wasteland

People of Walmart: The Show Girls

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