A quarter or more of all adults are classified as obese in more than two-thirds of states. The fattest states are all in the South. Colorado, California, Montana, and Mid-Atlantic and New England states have the lowest rates of obesity.
Late last year, I posted on an analysis my Martin Prosperity Institute colleague Charlotta Mellander and I did on state obesity - using data from an earlier study by the Centers for Disease Control. Here are the findings from that earlier analysis. As usual, we point out that correlation does not imply causality, but simply points to associations between variables.
It should come as little surprise that states with higher levels of obesity have significantly higher rates of death from cancer, heart disease, and cerebrovascular diseases like hypertension. There is a significant correlation between obesity and death rates from cancer (.7), heart disease (.7), and cerebrovascular disease (.7).
It might be, however, that states with greater percentages of obesity are those where people pay less attention to their health generally or are more likely to engage in risky behavior. And that's what we find at least in the case of smoking which correlates highly with state levels of obesity (.8).
Might obesity be related to states' broader social and psychological climates? To get at this, we looked at the relationship between obesity and a commonly used measure of subjective well-being or happiness developed by the Gallup Organization. Obesity is negatively associated with state happiness (with a correlation of -.6). Since these correlations only reflect associations between variables and not causality, it's hard to say whether this reflects the fact that happier people eat less, are healthier, or are less prone to obesity, or if unhappier people eat more, are unhealthier, or are somehow more prone to obesity, or if both obesity and happiness levels reflect something else. To get at this, we look at the associations between state obesity rates and social and demographic factors below.
Common sense would suggest that more affluent people would have lower levels of obesity and poorer ones higher, and we find such an association. Obesity is correlated with income levels (-.6) and more moderately so with economic output, measured as gross state product per capita (-.4).
One would think that states with greater concentrations of more highly educated people have lower levels of obesity, and that is what we find. States with higher levels of human capital, measured as the percentage of adults with a college degree, have lower levels of obesity (the correlation being -.8).
To what extent does obesity reflect the kind of work people do? We examine the relationships between obesity and three classes of jobs - creative/professional/knowledge jobs, blue-collar working class jobs, and standardized service class jobs like those in food processing and home health care. Obesity is strongly associated with the share of working class jobs (with a correlation of .7). Obesity is negatively correlated with the share of creative class jobs (-.6). Obesity is also negatively correlated with the share of service class jobs (-.4), though more moderately so.
Obesity is lower in states with higher concentrations of artists, musicians, and entertainers (with a correlation of-.6), those with larger concentrations of gays and lesbians (-.5), and immigrants (-.5). This likely reflects broader structural characteristics of those states, as more highly educated states also tend to be more tolerant and open to diversity.
Here's a link to a longer paper we wrote on the the factors associated with both obesity and smoking across U.S. states.
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