A Picture is Worth... In 1991 The Fattest US States Were As Thin As The Leanest in 2009

obese teens 2009 photo

2009: photo: Ed Yourdon via flickr.

TreeHugger has done post after post on why people in the United States are fat, detailing everything from the effects of farm policy, suburban develop, the recession, and sedentary lifestyles on the growing number of Americans with soaring Body Mass Indexes. (Lloyd's rounded up many of them here.) It's entirely conventional wisdom at this point that there are more fat people today than there used to be. But there's a chart in a new report on obesity from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that lays this out it stark terms. Check this out:

US obesity rate 1991 chart

US obesity rate 2007-2009 chart

Both images--taken from the F Is For Fat report [PDF]--show obesity trends in the US among adults, the top from 1991 and the bottom from 2007-2009.

The lightest blue areas have less than 10% obesity rates, the next two blue shades represent 10-20% obesity rates. This is where we were in 1991, with no state in the US (which reported data, the white areas didn't report) having greater than 20% obesity.

The purple is 20-25% obesity, followed by red at 25-30% and orange at greater than 30%. Note that only one state in the 2007-2009 timeframe, Colorado, is in the blue range.

Today our statistically thinnest state has a 19.1% obesity rate among adults, combined obese and overweight is 55.6%. Our fattest, Mississippi (which was also in the bulging ranks in twenty years ago) has an obesity rate of 33.8%, and a combined rate of 68.6%.

US Was Much Thinner Not That Long Ago
I bring this all up not to just pour more fuel on the fire--though the scale of this is such even that couldn't hurt--but to point out that you don't have to go back to the 1970s and 1980s to find a country of thinner people; you just have to go back to the early 1990s. For many TreeHugger readers (and this author) it's not our childhoods we're talking about, it's our late teens when the great fattening took hold.

Stop Supporting Agri-Business and Start Helping Smaller Farmers is Big Part of Solution
Since we've covered this all pretty thoroughly before, check out the TreeHugger archives (linked at top) and the report itself (linked below the images) for an in-depth look at all this.

But if it's the top-line causes and solutions that you're looking for, the following summary from SmartPlanet is about as accurate and succinct as can be reported, so I'll just quote at length:

Our obesity epidemic is not a demand problem. It's a supply problem. The mass production creates the mass production, as illustrated in the 1955 cartoon (subsidized by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation) Heir-Conditioned.
Current U.S. Department of Agriculture programs still support low cost, mass production of protein, starch, and corn-based sugar. Some of these specific programs date from the Great Depression.

Because current market incentives, imposed by the government, encourage factory production of protein and mass production of high fructose corn syrup, we have (surprise) super-cheap, mass-produced chicken, pork, beef, and sweet treats.

Changing those policies won't be easy, because there's a vast industry -- much of it now geared to export -- that has grown fat on those policies. Companies like Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods and Archer Daniels Midland have grown fat on our current system of subsidies. So have our fast food chains. So have our food manufacturers.

These companies, and others, will argue that any move to bring food production closer to home, to encourage truck farming and vegetables, or to reduce their subsidies in any way threatens mass starvation, here and around the world.

The opposite is the case.

Because we subsidize exports of grain, sugar and protein, African, Asian and South American markets can't develop. And because we subsidize for export, we can't either.

The answer to the obesity epidemic lies in changing our production incentives. Take the price supports off mass produced grain and feed, give them to small local truck farms and sustainable production methods. Then export expertise, which is more valuable than corn syrup anyway.

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More on Obesity:
Eat Like It's 1975 to Save the Planet: New Report Links Obesity, Energy Consumption & Climate Change
How Much Can Bike Commuting Curb Obesity?
Another View of Why You're Fat
No, This is Why You're Fat!

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