Gary Chapman, of the University of Texas, has created this way of envisioning the relationship between income and obesity. Concept: the shading varies with the obesity rate divided by median household income. This is a not-immediately-obvious way to present the data, in order to highlight one particular phenomenon: The darker the shade, the likelier you are to find people who are both poor and obese. Map created via Datamasher.org.
And here is a map of simple state-by-state obesity rates, from the Centers for Disease Control, highlighting among other things Colorado's claim to be trimmest state in the union.
Obviously, state-by-state comparisons are crude at best. The real sociological differences are within states -- county by county, neighborhood by neighborhood, as we see in Red/Blue voting maps. Still, as with voting there are large-scale state-by-state variations, and here the difference between Mississippi and, say, Vermont or Utah says something about racial mix, income and education levels, etc.
After the jump, another map and a few more hypotheses.
Now, interpretation. From a reader in Asia:
"Australian academic friend on sabbatical at Cornell referred to "The slender folk on the hill and the chunky ones below." Lots of class bias in weight. He and family are tall and skinney - genetics I suspect."
From a reader in England:
"I am surprised to read the Australian/English experience of there not being many fat people on the DC/NYC/Disney tourist route. I believe that obesity levels differ enormously according to geography. I used to live in Missouri and for my job travelled around the rural mid-west-- I don't think that you would have noticed fewer obese people than you expected if you lived in suburban Jefferson City (if such a thing exists) rather than suburban DC.
"I currently live in England, and on my last trip to the US I went to rural Virginia for a wedding, and rural New York State to visit my parents-- both areas appeared to be heavily afflicted with obesity. I suspect that the demographic differences almost entirely account for these differences-- poverty, after all, is supposedly most powerful indicator of obesity. "
From a reader in that trimmest state, Colorado:
"Some of your other reader have pointed out that is less visible in cities. It might also be less visible anywhere since I'd not want to go anywhere if I weighed 500 pounds.
"I think one indicator is the marketing of products for the obese. I'm tall and find it hard to get clothes that fit so I shop online for LT shirts. These 'Large and Tall' places have many more offerings in the large than tall. I'd be willing to bet that someone who needs an XXXL shirt fits the definition of obese.One of these sites advertises camping chairs that hold 800 pounds!
"My stepdaughter, who is 6'1" has also remarked on this. She is hard to fit and finds the tall places sell way more large
"I think the reader who commented on the health industry on to something. My wife is currently in a rehab hospital for brain trauma. She was thrown by her horse but will recover since she was wearing a helmet. The patients here tend to the slender since many got there through bicycle crashes and extreme sports. This hospital is attached to a large urban hospital and we've gone there a few time visiting an injured neighbor. There are some huge people there. We also see things like really, really wide and heavy wheelchairs."
The sci-fi angle, from a reader in the Midwest:
"There's the issue of the tails of the distribution. I live in Wisconsin and have visited Germany twice in the last two years for about two weeks each time. What I notice is, sure, both in the US and Germany there are plenty of thin people, and plenty of somewhat heavy people, the people who are a bit round around the middle. Maybe the ratio is a bit different, but you'd need real data to tell, it looks roughly similar. The striking difference is that I never saw anyone in Germany who was really, really large. The people three times my size who have trouble walking. There aren't an overwhelming number of the very large in the US, maybe it's a few percent, but it's enough that you see very large people every day. There must be some in Germany, too, but nothing like the US.
"For some reason I can' fathom, a science-fiction convention in the US will have a much larger fraction of very large (and the largest of the large) than you usually see, but in Germany it's like a gathering of skinny people, and most of the somewhat heavy round-in-the-middle people are actually from the UK."
Last one, for now, on the role of geography at the micro level:
"Observations from your correspondents on geographical distribution of obesity would appear to support my own theory that obesity correlates to development patterns (i.e., places where people walk have less of it; places where people drive everywhere have more). That would be consistent with the coastal cities vs. Midwest differential...
"This seems so painfully obvious to me that I'm surprised it isn't the central point in every discussion of the 'obesity epidemic'. (Or maybe I'm merely shocked, but not actually surprised.)"
Again, the general pattern here -- richer and better educated people being trimmer -- is very familiar. Its ramifications remain important.