Fat, Cheap, and Out of Control

Eating healthfully may be a luxury many cannot afford.

By Neil Osterweil
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario, MD

You can never be too rich or too thin. In fact, if you're not rich, you may not be able to afford to be thin.

According to the CDC, poor diet and lack of physical activity are closing in on tobacco as leading causes of death in the U.S. Or as Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson put it in a recent news conference announcing a "Healthy Lifestyles" initiative, "We're just too darned fat."

To prove its point about the weighty problems facing our nation, the HHS, using data from the CDC, has produced a map showing a steady increase in the percentage of obese adults in all states from 1991 to 2000. In 1991, more than 20% of the adults in five different states were obese. A decade later, the problem had spread -- literally -- to 17 additional states.

But while the data show an unequivocal gain in excess poundage throughout the country, the map also reveals a surprising inverse relationship between income and waistline. In other words, the more income grows, the lower obesity goes.

"The states that are becoming obese are the states that are low income," says Adam Drenowski, PhD, director of the Center for Public Health Nutrition at the University of Washington in Seattle. States that rank among the lowest in household incomes -- Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, and West Virginia -- are those with the highest percentages of obesity. Conversely, Connecticut and Massachusetts, which are among the wealthiest states, have among the lowest obesity rates, Drenowski contends.