Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Fat in America

Happy New Year!  The start of a new year is often also the start of a new diet or health plan for many Americans.  The holidays have come and gone and left many with a few extra pounds.  So I thought today would be a good day to look at what else -obesity data!

Measuring obesity is somewhat complicated.  Because it is a relatively easy measure to gather, most survey data -including the CDC's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey (BRFSS) data- use people's height and weight to calculate their Body Mass Index (BMI).  It is far from a perfect measure.  If you really are "big boned" as the country saying goes or are muscular, you may have a higher BMI but not be overweight. Or, you might come from an ethnicity of smaller framed people and rate as underweight when you are actually a healthy weight.  Still, for most people, the BMI is a relatively accurate measure of obesity.

The CDC breaks overweight people into the categories of Overweight (see above) and Obese (see below). Overweight people have a BMI of 25 to 29.9.  Obese people have a BMI of 30 or higher.  Being overweight puts you at risk for a shorter life, heart disease, diabetes, knee problems, and even psychological issues related to stigma against the overweight.

You'll notice that some states have relatively high percentages of people who are overweight but not that high of percentages of people who are obese.  Arizona stands out with this pattern.  Mississippi -which leads the country in the highest percentage of overweight and obese adults- has a relatively low percentage of people who are overweight in part because so many adults have transitioned into the obese category.

Even while obesity has risen across the country, a general pattern has emerged where the western states and northern tier states are relatively thinner than the South.

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