On the surface, two reports released earlier this week seem unrelated. One revealed that the number of Americans living in poverty has not changed much since the year before, but Mississippi still ranks as the poorest state. The other report looked at obesity levels in the nation. And guess which state is the fattest? That’s right. Mississippi. As WMNF’s Roxanne Escobales reports, the leaner your budget, the fatter you are more likely to be.

Common sense would conclude that poor people have less money to spend on food and should be among the thinnest of Americans. But growing research shows a link between obesity and poverty.

Mississippi has the unenviable double title of being the fattest as well as the poorest state.

ACT: “We are a very poor state and poverty is directly correlated with obesity. And also the fact that we have a fairly high instance , I think 35 – 36 % of our population is African American and they are more likely than whites to be overweight�

That was Agnes Hinton, a professor of community health at the University of Southern Mississippi. She’s also a dietician and the former director of nutrition services for the state’s department of health.

Hinton says that along with socioeconomic and race issues, Mississippi is a rural state where cars are necessities and supermarkets are not abundant in the country.

ACT: Not only are there transportation problems but if you look at the grocery stores available to them often if they have fresh fruit and vegetables they are fairly low quality and very expensive so there is even a problem in getting these fresh fruit and vegetables, particularly leaner cuts of meat, lower fat dairy products – often you don’t find those in rural areas or even in larger cities in some of the lower income areas.

Mississippi presents the symptoms of obesity that suggest being fat is less personal choice and more personal circumstance.

Lynn Parker is the director of child nutrition programs at the Food Research and Action Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to ending hunger and under-nutrition in America.

ACT: If you’re living on a very low budget… tendency stave off hunger… inexpensive starches…per calorie costs more to buy fruits and vegetables

Foods high in starch and sugar are known as energy dense foods. Dr Adam Drewnowski is the director of the nutritional sciences program at the University of Washington. He sees the trend of higher obesity rates as directly linked to the economy.

ACT: Sugar and fat are extremely cheap and this is what people are eating more of as their economic status declines as we all move toward downward mobility given the economy.

Obesity is not just a weight problem. Poor diets, lack of exercise and excess fat are linked to diabetes and high blood pressure. And with almost 47 million Americans without health insurance, fat becomes a costly problem.


That was Jeff Levi, executive director of the Trust for America’s Health and co-author of “F as in Fat: How Obesity Policies are Failing in America�, the report released this week that revealed Mississippi as the number 1 state for obesity.

In that report Florida ranked in the lower half of the list at number 38. Florida is one of 28 states granted money from the Centers for Disease Control to implement an obesity prevention program. The state received almost a half million dollars to be used over five years. Now in its fourth year, the program has to reapply for funding next year to continue.

Gladys Borges is the Nutrition coordinator for the Obesity prevention program. She said that while the department has noticed some differences, the funding is not enough.


Aside from federal money from the CDC, Florida dedicated 2.5 million dollars of the health budget to target the Hispanic population. Like blacks, Latinos have higher obesity rates than other groups. Next month the state will publish a recipe book that modifies the ingredients in traditional Hispanic food to include healthier options.

On the national level, federal agricultural policies contribute to the expense and accessibility of fresh fruit and vegetables and other healthy foods. The four major crops funded by the Farm Bill authorised annually by Congress are corn, cotton, potatoes and tobacco.

Marilyn Townsend works with nutrition programs at the university of California that are aimed at low income communities. She says vegetable crops are usually grown by smaller farms and lose out to the four traditional crops.


Nutrition experts and researchers also point to the food manufacturers and fast food restaurants as contributors to the obesity problem. They offer highly processed foods with little nutrition and use marketing campaigns that are difficult to compete with.

And so obesity turns becomes less personal problem and more social ill.

For WMNF News, I’m Roxanne Escobales.

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