Independent confirmation for what I have always suspected. - Jonah

U.S. Southerners Gaining Weight

The Associated Press

Wednesday, October 27 1999

ATLANTA (AP) - The laid-back Southern lifestyle is affecting waistlines below the Mason-Dixon line. Southerners are less likely to hike, ride a bike, walk or join a health club than their counterparts in the rest of the nation. As a result, Southerners are tipping the scale at more than 30 percent above their ideal body weight. In short, they're obese.

A study released Tuesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that the number of Americans considered obese soared from about one in eight in 1991 to nearly one in five last year. In the Southeast, the obesity rate jumped 67.2 percent in that time frame, with Georgia leading the nation with a whopping increase of 101.8 percent. West Virginia led the nation in terms of an overweight population, with an obesity rate of 22.9 percent. Two culprits were suspected for the change: urban sprawl and heat.

Many experts in Georgia blamed the extra pounds on modern suburbs, with no sidewalks to encourage walking and long commutes forcing residents to spend hours in their cars instead of exercising. ``Atlanta is not a walkable community. We don't have sidewalks that lead anywhere,'' said Pam Wilson, a dietitian with the Georgia division of public health. ``Even if we do find a sidewalk, they dead-end into an eight-lane highway.'' The period measured in the study coincides with a time of rapid population growth around Atlanta. In 1991, Georgia had one of the lowest obesity rates in the country.

Dr. William Dietz, a co-author of the CDC study, said the sprawl around Atlanta keeps people trapped in their cars for hours, encourages them to eat quick meals of greasy fast food and prevents them from having enough time to exercise. ``People in Atlanta drive more than in any other urban area in the country,'' he said. ``Community redesign may foster higher levels of activity and go a long way in preventing obesity.'' Others blamed Southern weather, saying the summers are too hot for people to get outside. The lowest obesity rates in the nation, by comparison, were in New England and in the West, where people are more active and the weather is cooler.

``If they don't get out in the morning, they don't exercise,'' said Harry DuVal, director of the University of Georgia fitness center. ``They go in and find air conditioning.'' ``It all adds up to a very unhealthy lifestyle,'' added Wilson. The CDC study, which is included in today's issue of Journal of the American Medical Association, was based on telephone surveys of more than 100,000 participants each year between 1991-98. Younger adults, people with some college education and Hispanics showed the most drastic increases, but ``a steady increase was observed in all states; in both sexes; across age groups, races, educational levels; and occurred regardless of smoking status,'' the study found.

Overall, the population of obese men and women in the United States increased from 12 percent in 1991 to 17.9 percent last year, according to the CDC survey, which said that figure might be conservative. Another study in the journal attributed an estimated 280,000 deaths a year to being overweight, but said the figure could be more than 374,000.

Being overweight has been strongly associated with greater risk of certain illnesses, including heart disease, high cholesterol and blood pressure, diabetes, stroke and some cancers. CDC Director Jeffrey P. Koplan said a national strategy is needed to combat obesity. He called for workplaces offer healthier foods and exercise facilities, more sidewalks and bike paths, and encouraging children to play outdoors instead of watching TV or using computers. ``In general, restoring physical activity to our daily routines is critical.''