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Jul 10, 2009 03:15 AM

The Blubber Belt?

I thought this story on CNN out of Time magazine's online edition was interesting reflecting on the "Rounding of the South"

When I see a title like "The Blubber Belt" it makes me think of trying to get something to hold up the pants of a Walrus. Have they tried "blubber suspenders?"

In any case it seems as though the climate, food choices and lack of public transportation and sidewalks is dooming our Southern friends to an ever increasing future of quintuple by-pass operations and the latest statin drugs. Hmm, sounds a lot like the North, East and West now that I think of it.

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    1. re: linguafood

      ...those must be chocolate covered sins...I love those things! ;-D>

      1. re: linguafood

        Interesting map - I had assumed Texas would be top of that list. Seems to me if you don't want to go West then go West.

      2. servorg, the problem is....we're always sitting on our butts reading chowhound!!!

        4 Replies
        1. re: alkapal

          We must get up to eat once in a while. Otherwise how do all these restaurant reviews get on here? (g)

          1. re: Servorg

            Well, sure, that only exacerbates it--always on a quest to type/talk about our latest delicious encounter--whether we cooked it up personally or went out to eat it. My new strategy (having noticed there's "more of me to love" of late)--back to Multi-Grain Cheerios for breakfast so I can save my calories for later. I also vote for a nice walk during the day--before, after or on the way to dinner, perhaps! Extra credit for hills! :)

          2. re: alkapal

            I am going for the trifecta of sitting, reading chow and eating chow. Way to go Sal!

            1. re: Sal Vanilla

              Me, too...i'm enjoying some really healthy bread pudding right now.

          3. Being a recent transplant to a southern state, I can tell you why folks are heavier here. While some of these observations are relevant everywhere, I've noticed more occurrences in rural areas. When I say rural, I am including towns with population < 100,000 and the surrounding area. I live in a rural area and these are my observations.

            Outside metropolitan areas, you have to drive to get anywhere. That may also apply within metro areas.

            Believe it or not, gym memberships here are more expensive than I found before (in far reaching suburbs of a major city). Probably because they have to charge more to cover their costs.

            There are a lot of people who are working poor or live close to or below the poverty line. The food supplement programs advocate purchasing processed food, which contributes to weight gain especially when coupled with lack of exercise. Products on the "approved" food list contain a lot of ingredients that are not healthy when consumed in mass quantities or are included in every meal. Let’s not even discuss the lack of whole grain products available.

            Believe it or not, there is not an abundance of fresh produce in rural areas. It spoils quickly. You can get produce at your local store but it's not that great and certainly not diverse. I don't think people are getting their fruit/veggie rations daily. If so, they may be sweetened or processed beyond recognition.

            Like most areas of the country, families are not cooking from scratch as much as they used to. Convenience products (quick meals, packaged dinners etc) are used more and more. It's a sad thing when EasyMac is considered a meal.

            Restaurants (smaller shops and smallish chains) rely on Sisco for their stock. It's all canned and/or processed; may contain high levels of sodium and yummy chemicals. It's not saying much when you have to go to Outback for anything that resembles fresh (i.e. decent veggies or salads).

            When dining out, a lot of people are more concerned with quantity over quality. Combined with the tight pocket books of many people, that translates into cheap, filling food. Lots of starches and inexpensive proteins. Imagine feeding a family of 4 for less than $20 (including tip) and having them all walk away stuffed to the gills.

            Continuing the quantity over quality theme, buffets reign supreme. And you would not believe the quantities consumed. Some of the buffets have decent food but charge more for it. Most of the buffets are less than $10/person; on average I'd say $7. Your buffet is not going to contain high quality food at $7/head.

            Some restaurants may include salads but supplement with yummy toppings like fake bacon, croutons and full fat dressings. Salad greens should not be pale green to white (everyone uses regular head lettuce, with no redeeming nutrional value).

            Fried food also reigns, especially on the buffet line. Quick to prepare, you can keep relatively decent product on the line. Besides, who doesn't enjoy fried fish, hush puppies and french fries??

            Desserts are a staple and could be considered a food group. Cobblers, pies, cakes, doughnuts etc are available everywhere. If you find the bakery that makes everything from scratch, you can avoid some of the HFCS products but good luck with that. Most products are pre-made somewhere else. At home, if desserts are served it's not made from scratch but purchased at the store.

            Sweet tea, while great on a hot summer day, is served as the preferred beverage. I’ve seen people consume six glasses (large glasses) during dinner. Think about all those calories from sugar.

            Is that enough??? I could go on......

            65 Replies
            1. re: Dee S

              Absolutely right on. Great post, Dee.

              Low SES (socio-economic status) + sprawl lifestyle = obesity.

              You see the same thing everywhere there are poor people... even middle-class people can so easily fall into this trap because they're too pressed for time/money to cook properly or get any exercise.

              1. re: Mawrter

                Thanks Mawrter; I thought long about that before posting but it's a personal issue with me. After moving down here, I find it very difficult to maintain a healthy diet with a diverse selection of ingredient. We eat more at home than we used to but I'm astonished at the lack of quality ingredients. It's like stepping back in time. I will admit to scaling back on exercising but let me tell you how hard it is to run a 5K in 110 degree heat. I'm working on getting back to running a 5K every day. I have lots of inspiration of what NOT to look like!

                Caroline, I agree with your reply to paulj. Although we do have many people in my general area who are very fit, they are the minority. In fact, there are two men who bike past my house every day discussing Lance Armstrong's showing the the TdF!

                1. re: Dee S

                  Dee, not sure where you live but as I posted below in lived in SE Louisiana for five years. I did a majority of my grocery shopping at the Super Wal-Mart, and NEVER had issues finding quality ingredients. I could always find great produce, meat, etc. In fact I had MORE selection there, than I do here in Toronto where I live now!

                  1. re: almond3xtract

                    Just curious - where do you shop in Toronto? There are plenty of places with great produce and excellent meat. My only problem is, as a single guy, I can't finish most produce before it starts to go bad. Who wants to have a Caesar salad every day for four days?

                    1. re: FrankDrakman

                      In terms of meat, if you brine it it it will last considerably longer before it starts to go off.

              2. re: Dee S

                So what is different about Colorado (which for a long time has been the least obese state)?

                Less fat and salt in their chile verde sauce?

                1. re: paulj

                  Nope. It's just that Colorado is America's Number 1 training ground for cycling and climbing in the summer and skiing in the winter. The Tour de France is currently running. If you have Versus with your cable selection (or you can catch the Tour on the web) give a look and let us know how many fat guys you see in the peloton. And those guys pack carbs like they were eating for a batallion! All you have to do to stay slim is ride your bike a few hundred miles a week and eat all you want! '-)

                    1. re: Mawrter

                      You think money makes people thin? Not nearly as well as exercise. '-)

                      1. re: Caroline1

                        Kidding, right?

                        I meant:

                        money = access to healthier foods


                        money = leisure = time to exercise (when you're off work, when you're not already dog-tired, when you don't have a passel of children up your nose), resources for exercise (sport equipment, safe place to run, gym membership, etc.) .... kwim?

                        Or, hell, maybe it IS rubbing the cold hard cash all over your bod. If I ever try it, I'll be sure to report back! ;-)

                        1. re: Mawrter

                          No. Not kidding at all. Think about it. Every state has its share of the wealthy. Money, in and of itself, does NOT impart the ability to carry through with the self discipline it requires to stay fit. Money may mean you can afford the home gym or a fancy gym membership, but it does not mean you will use it.

                          Athletes (and I’m not talking about golf or casual surfing) are endorphin junkies. The kind of people that feel most alive when pushing their bodies to the edge by hanging from a piton reaching for a finger hold to pull themselves a few inches up a mountain, or feel most alive when praying that their knees can handle the torque of shooting down a ski slope at speeds most people are afraid of in the safety of their cars, and people who push their body’s anaerobic threshold a bit higher and higher so they can endure a bit more lactic acid burn in their muscles to try to be the first to push their bikes across the finish line.

                          These are a type of people who are born that way, and who may or may not have a comfortable discretionary income, but who can, by buck or by thumb, make it to Colorado, where the terrain and altitude provide them with an environment in which to maximize their goals. For cyclists and skiers, and to some extent mountain climbers, Colorado is where it’s at.

                          That’s what I meant. And that’s why Colorado isn’t at the top of the fatties list. But hey, I too am more than willing to see if a Scrooge McDuck gold bath can cause me to lose weight! Just send on the gold. 24k preferred! ‘-)

                          1. re: Caroline1

                            But don't the obesity statistics count the % of people who are overweight. I don't think a few bike riders, or vegetarian skiers at the skinny end of the spectrum will skew the statistics.

                            A difference in attitudes toward exercise and outdoor activity may be part of it, even in a city like Denver or Colorado Springs.

                            But a Southern food culture may also be a factor. Not just fast and processed foods, though they are part of it. But think also of southern fried chicken, grits loaded with butter, cakes and other favorite Southern desserts. Every cuisine has its high calorie foods, but many of the Southern favorites fall in that category.

                            1. re: paulj

                              Its about culture. Not "museum and concerts" culture, but the generational kind of culture that defines a social group. In that sense, Colorado is a lot younger than the American South, that has several hundred years of bad diet under its expanded belt.

                              There was a cultural anthropology/psychology study done a few decades back that found it takes three generations for a family to fully adjust to a change from average to low income to full blown wealth. They studied things like adaptation to food, social changes, having servants, all of the obvious and subtle changes that went with the change. Three generations!

                              Now, after how many hundreds of years of thinking a "good" meal is loaded with gravy, butter, sugar, fat do you think have to be overcome before ANY southern state makes the transition to healthy girth? Sweet tea. Red eye gravy with grits, fried eggs, a slab of ham or bacon, fried potatoes and toast with cream and sugar in your coffee for breakfast ain't exactly a diet breakfast!

                              America, but especially America's south, suffers from cultural obesity. THAT is going to be extremely difficult to change!

                              On the other hand, if science can come up with a metabolism modifying pill that allows people to have their red eye gravy and grits, plus fried chicken with buttered jellied biscuits to have their cake and lose weight too, well, hey.... Sign me up for a lifetime supply of those pills!

                              1. re: Caroline1

                                Problems arise when the splurges of one generation become the norm of the next.

                                I've read that heart problems (if not obesity) have become more common among Indian immigrants in the UK as the meat and fat rich restaurant fare (modeled on the Mogul Court) becomes part of the every day diet.

                                1. re: paulj

                                  To a certain extent it is splurges becoming the norm, but the bigger change in my experience is a shift in work/life style. My parents (baby boomers) were the first generation on both sides of the family that were not farmers. I have many friends who are the first non-farming/manufacturing generation in their families. The traditional diet of the South is somewhat appropriate when your work day involved 12 hours of hard physical labor, but it's way too much for an 8 hour/day desk job.

                                  1. re: mpjmph

                                    That's an excellent point. So BBQ stands for "Blubber Belt Quotient" now?

                                    1. re: mpjmph

                                      I'd say it's more a matter of moving away from the traditional diet, which included a lot of fresh greens and vegetables. Earlier in the 20th century, the South fared better than the rest of the country on obesity. The South being relatively more obese is a relatively recent phenomenon.

                                      1. re: Naco

                                        Agreed, plus so many more people have sedentary work instead of physical work.

                                  2. re: Caroline1

                                    Active, athletic, outdoor oriented people move to areas that foster that type of lifestyle. Colorado is something of a "self fulfilling prophecy" in many ways. As the article pointed out, if you like to mountain bike or rock climb or snow ski or just hike then you probably will not be moving to Mississippi or Alabama if you can help it.

                                    1. re: Caroline1

                                      Well, you have to remeber that in previous centuries, these areas were probably more agrarian. You needed all of that calorie-dense food to toil on the farm. You were also likely growing it in your backyard. That food culture probably grew out of necessity. It stayed around because it tastes good.

                                    2. re: paulj

                                      Yes, it's a percentage. While every state has some wealthy people, there's a wide variation in the average income per state: some states have a higher percentage of better educated, more affluent (and thus, on average, less overweight) residents than others. The same is true of bike riders and skiiers. While the number of professional bike riders and skiiers in Colorado isn't enough to skew the stats, there's definitely a difference in attitudes toward outdoor activity: in Colorado, an active outdoor lifestyle is more of a cultural norm, and thus influences even people who aren't particularly interested in that lifestyle themselves -- if your friends all go hiking or biking or skiing on the weekends, you're likely to be dragged along too, at least some of the time, and if the majority of the people around you are athletic and of a healthy weight, then you're going to strive to achieve that norm.

                                      There was a recent study that showed that overweight people who are surrounded by other overweight people are more likely to consider their weight to be "normal" -- and technically it is the "norm" for their cohort. So in areas where a high percentage of the population is overweight it becomes a self-perpetuating problem. It's sort of like the related issue of portion sizes in restaurants: if all you ever see are outsized portions/people, then it becomes harder to recognize what "normal" should be.

                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                        I think I know the study you mean:


                                        There's an interactive feature that is very good for showing the patterns of emergence.

                                      2. re: paulj

                                        Also, you could look at immigration patterns to Colorado vs. the South, as not all ethnicities tend toward extra weight at the same rate.

                                        "Whites make up 82.8% of Colorado’s population compared to the national percentage of 75.1%... Blacks make up 3.8% of the population of Colorado, while nationally, blacks comprise 12.3% of the population..."

                                        "Percentage of Black population (2005):

                                        Mississippi 36.5%
                                        Louisiana 32.5%
                                        Georgia 29.2%
                                        South Carolina 28.5%
                                        Alabama 25.8%
                                        North Carolina 21.0%
                                        Virginia 19.1%
                                        Tennessee 16.4%
                                        Arkansas 15.3%"

                                        "In 2005, African Americans were 1.4 times as likely to be obese as Non- Hispanic Whites."

                                        1. re: Cinnamon

                                          cinnamon, your point is right on target with reality.

                                          1. re: alkapal

                                            I should've added... among whites too you get a lot of immigrants from Ireland and Scotland and thereabouts in the South. I don't know that many if any real studies have been done but I'm not convinced that people of say, Celtic backgrounds are going to have the same resistance to the heavy carb intake (and other things) as someone who's Germanic, or Russian, or whatever, in heritage.

                                            1. re: Cinnamon

                                              i think the biggest
                                              'stat-shifter" is the black population's percentage. it's less likely that blacks have moved out of the rural-worker group, due to many factors, one being education, and one being prejudice about "moving up". these fundamentals have changed, but have not been erased. additionally, there is still a "cultural" food factor, which is food prep and food choices.

                                              the old south had people working in the fields, back and white, and big meals were eaten at lunch.

                                          2. re: Cinnamon

                                            Good points, but I wonder if the real correlative factor is socioeconomic status rather than ethnicity. There's no doubt that people of color are more likely to be fat than whites. But there's also no doubt that they're more likely to be poor. FWIW.

                                            1. re: alanbarnes

                                              Could indeed be for all colors. And I don't know if (regarding obesity stats or other things) there have been any/many studies looking at healthcare status for African Americans, adjusting for socieconomic status, but that Office Of Minority Health might be a place that would have links to such.

                                          3. re: paulj

                                            Paula Dean, in particular, seems determined to give everyone cardiac arrest. ;}

                                          4. re: Caroline1

                                            I appreciate your points, and I'm not saying they're untrue, but I still contend that they're less important in explaining obesity demographics than socio-economic status. (AND god I love discussing this with someone who can disagree and make their point so agreeably - thanks! I'll try to do the same!)

                                            Poor people may pursue athleticism, yes, but they're unlikely to have access to the kind of gear Colorado type sports entail. Of course the money doesn't equal the discipline, the skill, the fitness, etc., but the absence of money can tank it. And as you & others mention, there's a cultural diff that comes with SES... basketball vs. polo. Street hockey versus ice hockey. And so on.

                                            Plus, although of course each state has a range of income levels among its residents, they definitely don't have an equal share of upper income people (or middle-, or low-). For example, the top ten percent of earners in Southern states don't make as much as the top 10% in the north.

                                            The South has a disproportionate number of low-income people, while Colorado attracts many affluent people, whether as tourists or as residents. I personally wonder how many residents in the stat about Colorado having such high average fitness are year-round residents versus all the people I know with vacation homes there (and none of them are exactly penniless, yk?).

                                            recent stats on income - scroll down to those broken out by state:

                                            If you check out these stats (poverty by state) every state in the double digits for %age of its residents in poverty is in the South, other than CA, AK, NY & DC. In fact, VA, AZ & Missouri are the only Southern states without double digits and I'm not even sure if most people consider Missouri & Arizona "Southern" or not.

                                            1. re: Mawrter

                                              I wonder if Colorado's numbers are, at least partially, skewed for a different reason? There are many people who retire there. The climate engenders activities like tennis, golf, walking, swimming. Those people who embrace these activities are likely to be slimmer...and alive. Those who are fat are more likely to remain in the place where they retired.

                                              This is just a proposition waiting to be shot down.

                                              1. re: Mawrter

                                                Mawrter, I just want you to know I haven't "walked away," but have been driven away by malfunctions on Chow. I've responded three times and suddenly the site clsoes my "Respond" window and launches me into cyberspace. It happens with both Internet Explorer and Chrome. I may get this posted by cutting and pasting. I didn't want you to t hink I'm being rude. Sorry. If it happened on other sites, I'd think it was my computer, but it's jsut here. <sigh> Second paste....

                                                1. re: Caroline1

                                                  Oh no, how annoying! I definitely didn't think rude, although I was a little worried that I'd hurt your feelings somehow.

                                                  Happy Bastille Day! Eat something French! Or revolutionary!

                                                  1. re: Mawrter

                                                    I'm eating a French sea salt caramel as I type. Yum!

                                            2. re: Mawrter

                                              Money DOES NOT equate to healthier foods!!

                                              Some of the best foods, rich in vitamins/nutrients/antioxidants, are the cheapest and people in the South eat these foods more than anywhere else in the country.

                                              Greens, beans, whole grain rice, seafood (healthy oils!), nuts, the list goes on and on.

                                              What turns these foods from healthy to unhealthy is preparation. For example red beans & rice can be prepared in a healthy manner, but traditionally it is made with pork fat, oils and sometimes even butter.

                                              I have never seen people crowd the produce aisles as I did when I lived in Louisiana!

                                              1. re: almond3xtract

                                                I absolutely realize that there are all kinds of anecdotal exceptions, and I'm extremely happy to hear about the one you describe, but the longtime, abundantly documented aggregate trend is that low-income people do not have access to quality foods.

                                                First of all, to be able to buy quality produce, you have to PAY for it. And you have to be able to get to a store that has it. In many urban areas there are no grocery stores in low-income areas, and in rural areas quality grocery stores are accessible only by driving miles and miles - which presupposes access to a car that runs, gas money, and again, the money to pay for the groceries (or food stamps if eligable). That is why you see so many low-income people relying on convenience food - it's the only food they can get without going over hill and dale, or traveling to other neighborhoods on public trans and trying to lug back pounds of food. A few generations of this type of food, and people forget there's another way.

                                                There are definitely private and community gardens, food programs that distribute quality ingredients instead of over-processed crap, efforts to get farmers a way to accept FS at farmers markets, efforts to get quality grocery stores into low-income neighborhoods, etc. but the reason these situations of low-income people eating healthy is noteworthy is because they're the exception, not the rule.

                                                And that's only talking about low-income people WITH stable housing and some form of income ... there are also thousands of people who couldn't do diddly-squat if you GAVE them a case of prime rib, hand-made pasta, and 20 lbs of the tenderest spring asparagus (or fill in the blank with your dream meal) - because they don't have stable housing, and so no means of cooking, serving it or eating it.

                                                Also, if I didn't say it already - right on about preparation being key to maintaining the benefits of healthy foods. You cook food to death in too much salt and fat and it doesn't matter how good the produce was to start off with... I hear you. A related point -that might not be true of your area- is that even among chain groceries (like the Acmes we have around in the Philly metro area) there are BIG differences from Acme to Acme, depending on neighborhood. Around me, you have perfectly fine-looking produce, upscale prepared foods, better and lower-fat cuts of meat, etc. In lower-income neighborhoods you have pasta in a can and produce that looks like it fell off a truck, the meat is lower-grade, etc. The differences are even more pronounced when you look at the independently-owned groceries. Not to say 'fancier' is better for health, (and truthfully, it's been awhile since I was in a grocery store in a low-income area, so I'm not offering as many specifics as I'd like to - they at the time) but I do remember thinking how hard it would be to eat healthy if that was your only source for food.

                                                Again - regional variations could very much be a factor in how you're seeing the world versus my view and the national view - to say nothing of INTERNATIONAL since you're now in Canada! Sounds like LA would be a great place to live if you had to do it on very little.

                                                1. re: Mawrter

                                                  """First of all, to be able to buy quality produce, you have to PAY for it. And you have to be able to get to a store that has it. In many urban areas there are no grocery stores in low-income areas, and in rural areas quality grocery stores are accessible only by driving miles and miles - which presupposes access to a car that runs, gas money, and again, the money to pay for the groceries (or food stamps if eligable). That is why you see so many low-income people relying on convenience food - it's the only food they can get without going over hill and dale, or traveling to other neighborhoods on public trans and trying to lug back pounds of food.""
                                                  baloney that people don't have access to good foods, if they want to buy them. if they're truly low-income they have food assistance, and they know someone with a car, if they don't have one themselves -- or can take public transport. their food CHOICES and their level of physical activity affect their weight. even the lowliest of food chains have frozen veggies, although maybe not an abundance of fresh veggies in a huge variety. and in the south, veggies are grown, and are available in the stores or market stands - even if they're only collard greens and not arugula.

                                                  and further, what says your concepts aren't based on your "anecdotal" evidence or just mere supposition and stereotypes? i.e., do you *know* what you've asserted as a fact from first-hand experience in the south, since you're not from the south?

                                                  edit: this quote from the time magazine article is just unfounded: "So there you have it. Southerners have little access to healthy food and limited means with which to purchase it." even the article itself said there was an equal issue about lack of exercise!

                                                  1. re: alkapal

                                                    My assertions are based on reams and reams and reams of data. So no, I don't have direct life experience because I am a middle-class Northerner. However, I have done a lot of studying on poverty, both statistics and the writings of people who work with rural and urban poor and they know their sh!t.

                                                    Clearly, a bunch of numbers on a page do not describe the exact choices of what every single low-single person puts in their mouth and how it gets there. And who wants to be reduced to a number anyway? All these formal, broad studies *by*definition* lack the nuance of knowing someone's diet deeply, knowing how a particular family cooks or gets through the month from check to check, following someone around in the store to see what they put in their cart, or *living* the eating decisions that low-income people make every single day.

                                                    By the same token, the singular of data is not anecdote.

                                                    One last thought: I think we are talking about two -very- different notions of what "access" means.

                                                    1. re: alkapal

                                                      I"m not sure public transport is an option for everyone. Many areas of this country are very car-dependent. I live in the NYC area, where I can get just about anywhere by bus or train. I also live in a suburb with a real downtown and sidewalks (something missing from newer suburbs). It amazes me how little of this is available in other places. When I visit friends and family in southern areas, I can get through the cities using public transport (some better than others as to available options) but there is no way from the city to the suburbs except by car. That is very unlike where I live where I can get from my home to Manhattan by train in 35 minutes.

                                                      Besides, chances are good if you can't afford a car, you don't hang out much with people who can either. It would also assume they have time to drive you. Transportation is a real problem for people.

                                                      1. re: Avalondaughter


                                                        I'm not sure what the breakdown is of rural vs. urban poor in the south, but I think the #s for rural poverty are pretty substantial. Many anti-poverty programs are directed at the urban poor and they're just not accessible for people in rural areas.

                                                        Plus, although public trans is more available in urban areas, if you live in a low-income nabe the sheer number of trains, buses, switching lines, etc. is amazing - what a timesuck. And let's face it, usually getting to work, daycare and the pediatrician's is a higher priority than seeking out good chow for - well, pretty much the vast majority of people.

                                                        The on thing that gives me hope is that I understand Wal-Mart, which is often the only accessible major store for people in rural areas, has more and better food options. Do I love WM? Heck no, but if that's all you've got, that's all you've got.

                                                        1. re: Mawrter

                                                          If you live in a rural area in the South you should have plenty of access to fresh produce. If you live in an apartment in the city then you have an excuse for not having a vegetable garden, but if you have even a patch of dirt, not so much. Maybe the problem is the whole idea that food comes from a supermarket, not from the ground.

                                                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                            Growing your own food takes more than the land for the garden. If a home garden is going to be the primary year-round source of produce for a family it is practically a full time job in itself to grow the food and preserve what will be needed after the growing season ends. It takes a lot of knowledge that many people simply don't have, and depending on where they live they may not have easy access to a library, an extension office, or the internet. The up-front costs of a substantial vegetable garden are prohibitive, even if growing from seed.

                                                            1. re: mpjmph

                                                              Gee, I wonder how our ancestors managed to survive without extension offices and the internet.

                                                              This is a total phallacy perpetuated by middle class urbanites for whom having a garden and making preserves is a hobby. Sure, if you want to have a fancy organic demonstration garden it's expensive, but if you're just growing basic vegetables on a patch of ground, it's really not. Seeds are not expensive, especially since a package of seeds has more than one garden needs and thus can be shared. If you're not growing fancy hybrids, you can even save seeds. The know-how is there among your friends, neighbors, grandparents, etc. -- people for whom having a garden isn't a hobby, it's a way of life people in rural areas have never left.

                                                              Sure it's more trouble than most people can or will go to, to provide all your produce year round, but especially in mild climates in the south you can grow vegetables enough of the year to meet the preponderance of your produce needs.

                                                              I agree with the person above who said that one of the problems (not the only problem, of course) is that buying food at the store, buying processed and prepared foods, especially foods you see advertised on television, is aspirational. Poor people associate working their garden and growing their own food with poverty; they associate buying food they see on TV with being part of the American mainstream.

                                                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                Ruth, that concept of "aspirational" is interesting. People buy what makes them feel good about themselves and part of that is what they see and how they see it presented in the media.
                                                                There are studies that show that lower income, less educated consumers are more likely to buy "name brands" or "prestige brands" as opposed to "no-name" or store-brands, or even brands they consider "less than." This includes the latest convenience items and processed foods.
                                                                There was and continues to be a move away from breast feeding at lower socio-economic levels (except within some ethnic/cultural groups) and the purchase of infant formula is subsidized.
                                                                Food assistance programs make the purchase of heavily advertised processed foods possible, and users give little thought to the economic and health downsides of what is essentially "free food." There is not much incentive to do so.
                                                                I'd be willing to bet that if the "obesity" figures were adjusted for socio-economic and education levels, they would tell a different story that wouldn't be regional at all.

                                                                There are also many people who are the first generation away from poor or working class who are obese. They have money that their families never had, and now have the option to buy those "aspirational" foods and to buy a lot of them. They might eat out a lot, buy prestige products, and consume far more than they need, because they have "made it" and deserve to live well. That translates into food.

                                                                1. re: MakingSense

                                                                  I don't know enough about real-life Southern foodways in comparison to the rest of the country to know if that would be the total picture, M.S., but I definitely, heartily, emphatically agree that adjusting for SES/educ. levels would erase the vast majority of the differences in obesity levels between Southerners and nonSoutherners. All the stuff that we're talking about low-income and neighborhoods in the South is *abundantly* true of all the low income neighborhoods in my area, for sure.

                                                                  Ruth's post made me think exactly the same thing about "aspirational" food / lifestyle and choosing formula feeding for babies. There are lots of studies about that, and concerns about breastfeeding among minority groups, and about the relationship between WIC & breastfeeding rates (why turn down free food, to say nothing of the horrendous difficulty of launching unsupported breastfeeding and returning to work... and although this is a heck of a distance from the original topic, I will point out that breastfeeding rates [initiation, exclusiveness, maintaining for the medically-recommended period - every possible measure] are way lower in the South - see, I got back!).

                                                                  In my own family the grandmother who was working class and "new money" in the '40s used formula exclusively and talked relatively who "could not afford baby milk". My other grandmother, who'd grown up a little less poor and a little more old country, birthed at home with an ethnic midwife from the neighborhood and breastfed. My mom, who was no hippie, was a very good cook and committed to health and a bit more comfortably middle class, breastfed in the '60s and '70s.

                                                                  We have a lot of --well, in recent years, a lot MORE of, though maybe not a LOT-- community gardens that work with food programs in the city. But I think the rural poor get overlooked, even though they still might not have access to land. I realize not everyone has time/ability to garden, but community garden programs in rural areas could be absolutely AWESOME because there's probably land enough if you could just find someone to let a program use it. And part of the "sell" to potential participants could be that it's a great way of keep traditional regional foodways alive, of of bringing them back... wouldn't that be cool?

                                                                  1. re: Mawrter

                                                                    when i was pastoring a rural church in 1993, most of the members had their own gardens, i surveyed the strengths of the congregation and saw their individual gardening talents as well as a beautiful corner property. there was a "project" kitty corner where many of the residents were recent transplants from NYC and low-income. when i suggested to the church that part of our christian service to the community might be to establish a community/cooperative garden; it was met with adamant opposition, unfortunately... people afraid of their neighbors, protective of their property... sad to say... but i knew that day that had to leave that parish...must polish my presentation before i try it again

                                                                2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                  There has certainly been a culture shift where early generation non-farmers are resistant to subsistence growing, but I think it's harmful to dismiss the time and upfront costs of subsistence growing as a barrier. Starting from scratch takes money. Not much, but any money is money, and some people may have to choose between buying food right now or buying seeds/tools to grow food later, and I'm not talking about fancy tools or organic/heirloom seeds. A basic garden hoe costs $10, a hose is another $10, seeds are at least $1/pack. Yes the seeds and tools are an investment, but living paycheck to paycheck makes it hard to invest in anything long term. It would be nice if food assistance programs would help with gardening purchases and/or education.

                                                                  Several generations ago people knew how to grow because they learned from their parents. From my experience this knowledge started fading after WWII. My grandmother refused to teach my mom and aunt about gardening and food preservation because she saw a bright future full of technology and prosperity that made that knowledge obsolete. There is a generational knowledge gap, many people don't have older family members or neighbors who can/will teach them.

                                                                  I don't think this is the sole or primary reason for our obesity problems, but there are very real problems with access to quality fresh foods for poor people, both rural and urban. This barriers don't exists in every town or neighborhood, but they exist in enough places that the effect does show up in studies of poverty and food access.

                                                                  1. re: mpjmph

                                                                    You are trying to be sympathetic, but you are ignoring reality.
                                                                    Food stamps can be used to purchase seeds and bedding plants. Common kitchen implements can be used to dig small holes for them. Inexpensive garden tools are available in the ubiquitous Dollar Stores that cover the poorest neighborhoods and sell cosmetics, plastic flowers, toys, lawn furniture, and junk.
                                                                    This is a question of education and setting priorities, just as it is for many middle and upper class people who still manage to live paycheck to paycheck.

                                                                    It is true that most public housing won't allow planting of ornamentals or vegetables, and there are unfortunate problems with vandalism.
                                                                    But most people don't even try when they can. No one encourages them.
                                                                    Whenever there ARE programs for community gardens, the older people in inner-city neighborhoods race to sign up. They love this. Not the young. Not in the city or the country. Except for a few - the kind of people on CH maybe - they don't want to spend the time or effort.

                                                                    Gardening requires a commitment and most people don't do it to save money. They have other reasons. The seed folks who experienced a boom this year because it was "cool" and a lot of people rushed to do because of the economy, say that they don't expect the increase to repeat next year. They said that many of the new gardeners will be discouraged and find that it isn't as easy nor as rewarding as they had anticipated.

                                                                    The problem still comes down to educating people to make wise food choices at the place where MOST of them shop - the regular old grocery store.

                                                                    1. re: MakingSense

                                                                      No, I'm not ignoring reality. I'm trying to get across the point that the reality I lived with for much of my childhood and that many Americans, including most of my family members, still live with is that quality fresh foods are not easily accessible. I read far too often that if people just did one thing or another all the obesity problems would be solved. It just isn't that simple. There are real barriers to behavior change beyond simply knowing something is healthful or not and if we as a society really want to change the obesity trend we need to acknowledge the barriers first.

                                                                      1. re: mpjmph

                                                                        It's also a value judgment to say that "quality fresh foods are not easily accessible."
                                                                        Who decides what "quality" means and whether people prefer that food be fresh rather than frozen or canned? After all, nutrition experts say that well processed frozen foods can actually have more nutritional value than so-called "fresh" items which are long-removed from the field. There is nothing wrong with good canned items and many people like them.

                                                                        Except for rural areas, people have reasonably easy access to stores. Maybe not fabulous grocery stores like there are in affluent areas, but perfectly acceptable stores. The stores have simple chicken, beef and fish. Beans, rice, and pasta. Flour and other staples. Ordinary vegetables. Dairy products.
                                                                        There is a temptation to say that because these stores would not please YOU, that they are unacceptable.
                                                                        Unfortunately, these stores also carry a lot of Grade A Junk. Why? Because the customers buy it and they often buy it with food stamps.
                                                                        The biggest barrier is behavior.

                                                                    2. re: mpjmph

                                                                      The issues are very complex. For example, I have lived in or near Oakland, CA all my life -- I'm very familiar with the make-up and demographics of various neighborhoods.

                                                                      There's a lot of discussion about the lack of supermarkets for people to buy fresh produce in West Oakland, a largely African-American neighborhood. There are some very good programs working on the issue in that area; I did a volunteer day with an organization that has an urban farm where they sell the products (produce, eggs, honey, etc.) to people in the neighborhood on a "pay what you can" basis. They also help people build and plant their own gardens. Great. BUT part of their political rhetoric is that the lack of grocery stores in this area is the fault of evil corporate America that won't build stores in low-income areas. While this may be true, it's also true that in low-income immigrant neighborhoods a couple of miles away there are many markets selling produce -- mostly at prices much less than the chain supermarkets.

                                                                      This is a clear demonstration of the fact that economic status of the neighborhood is only one factor in determining whether there are markets and what they sell. There's also a cultural factor -- many Americans (of all races, ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds) don't cook -- they don't buy fresh ingredients because they either don't know what to do with them or they have no interest in cooking. As posters have noted elsewhere, stores won't stock perishable products if they don't have a guaranteed customer base, so they stop selling them, which perpetuates the cycle. On the other hand, in immigrant neighborhoods people are still closer to a culture where cooking was the norm, and they tend to have extended family with older family members who can cook and teach the younger generation. They buy produce at their neighborhood markets and the markets and the neighborhood thrive. Not only that, but because they tend to shop frequently, rather than in big buy-for-the-whole-week binges, the stores can stock produce that's cheaper to purchase from distributors because it's closer to the end of its sales life. The customers don't care if it won't last in the fridge for several days because they're going to cook it that day. It's a win-win.

                                                                      So I see it as an issue that needs a two-pronged approach: bring fresh food into the neighborhood on a small scale and do outreach/education to encourage people to cook. Then the cycle can start upward again until there's enough of a customer base to support larger markets.

                                                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                        I am in love with your last paragraph (not to dis the rest of the post, but the last hits home with me). Solutions that are workable.

                                                                        My husband and I do a free community class twice a year that helps folks with household budgeting and making wise choices. It gets... fair turn out. I think it could be marketed better. Last year around this time I was talking to some women after the class about time management and cooking for the week on a tight budget. We agreed to meet at one of the women's apartment and we made food for quick, inexpensive and varied meals for the week using food we had and shopped for off the grocery store sale flyer. No preboxed food (since that is not cost effective).

                                                                        I think that would be a terrific pamphlet or a class to put together. A comparative shopping/ budget/cook healthy for the week class or booklet.

                                                                        I may have to do some working on that.

                                                                        Thank you for that post Ruth. I don't know if it will make people thinner, but it will make them happier - financially and nutritionally. There is no excuse for anyone in America to be undernourished. No good excuse.

                                                                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                          Yes, we definitely need a 2 (or more) pronged approach. The only point I've been trying to make is that it isn't as simple as telling people to eat one thing and not another, and it seems that we agree on that point.

                                                          2. re: almond3xtract

                                                            Almost all of us of the Asian persuasian would highly object to your, "Greens are hardly even touched elsewhere in the US!"

                                                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                              I have a sneaking hunch that people of Italian, Eastern European, and North African extraction might also have something to say about that. Here in California, even the WASPs eat a fair amount of kale and chard and such.

                                                              Nothing that there's anything wrong with old fashioned southern greens. It's great that they're served as widely as they are in some parts of the world. I feel just a little bit virtuous when I have greens and field peas alongside my fried chicken and mashed potatoes at a meat 'n' three. But anybody who thinks they aren't eaten elsewhere is mistaken.

                                                      2. re: Caroline1

                                                        Money certainly does not hurt. You can afford fresh things and the best quality products that make so so calorie/nutrition things into a worthwhile meal.

                                                        Things that are fattening/caloric are cheap. You have to doctor them up to make them fit for eating... Potatoes, pasta, government cheese, hamburger, bread, baloney. Fried chicken, all you can eat buffet. Fried everything. Plus, southerners fry and flavor with cheap fat. I know. I am one. They also tend to cook things into oblivion.

                                                        Poor people are usually not buying gym memberships or going for a fast walk with the other women in the neighborhood. They are working, sometimes two jobs, tending to their kids and keeping things afloat.

                                                        They also tend to not know about how to make good food choices. They did not grow up doing it, were not exposed to it and are generally not filled with idle time spent analyzing their menu or how their jeans are looking on their rears.

                                                        1. re: Caroline1

                                                          Sorry, Caroline, but there's a direct relationship between socioeconomic status and healthy BMI. I'm not going to argue about the why, but it's an undeniable fact.

                                                          1. re: alanbarnes

                                                            Whatever. I have NO clue as to what you're replying to... Sorry.

                                                            1. re: Caroline1

                                                              If you click on the "re:" button at the top of a post it will highlight the reference. I was responding to your statement that exercise, not money, makes people thin. In the US, the average poor person is fatter than the average rich person. Lots of explanations for this have been posited, some of which are more compelling than others, but nobody disputes the underlying fact.

                                                              1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                Yes, the "average" poor person may be fatter than the "average" person of wealth, but it''s NOT the wealth that makes the less-financially-challenged thinner. In part, it is education; as in poorer people not knowing how to compose a healthy and nutricious diet that is not laden with girth-expanding flavors. My point is simply that money in the bank will NOT make one thinner. It takes knowledge and will power, and if one tends to live on the heftier side of life, it also requires exercise and discipline. None of these things are dependent on one's bank balance. The problem with ignorance of proper diet and proper exercise is that it is a generational self perpetuating syndrome. But if people of limited means have the will power and discipline and curiosity to take advantage of all of the information available out there, they MAY have a chance of reducing their girth.

                                                                But then there are also problems for some regarding metabolism and the endocrine system that will make it extremely difficult for some folks to control their weight. Science is working on that. but we ain't there yet!

                                                                1. re: Caroline1

                                                                  Like I said, there are plenty of theories about why people in the lowest income brackets are the most likely to be obese. I hear what you're saying, but there are a lot of other issues at play.

                                                                  Kids in an affluent neighborhood are more likely to have a safe place to go outside and play. It's harder for somebody who is limited to public transportation and doesn't have good access to a grocery store to buy healthful foods. And if you're not worried about food security, you're less likely to buy highly-processed foods just because of their low cost per calorie.

                                                                  Yes, just about anybody can overcome the obstacles to a healthy lifestyle with education, self-discipline, and persistence. But it's a whole lot easier to overcome the obstacles if you've got money in the bank.

                                                    2. re: paulj

                                                      The Colorado phenomenon may also be possibly along the lines of why there is an abundance of relatively good drivers in Germany.

                                                      I figure the lack of essential atmosphere in Colorado has already killed off or driven away anyone who can't adapt to the mountainous environment.

                                                    3. re: Dee S

                                                      I live in the South so I can only speak for the South but I bet these two factors are happening across the U.S. I wholeheartedly agree with Dee's post but would like to add two points. It seems to me that at least in younger people (let's say 22 y.o. and younger) it is no longer a big deal to be mildly or excessively obese. No one covers it up or tries to conceal it. I see younger people at the mall and the beach in outfits and bathing suits I wouldn't have worn at their age and I was always in great shape! The other thing that might be contributing to the buffet-lifestyle that has taken off in recent years is the access to credit cards. A generation (or even more recently) if there wasn't enough money at the end of the week to take the family out for dinner, more Americans made do with what they had on hand. Now, even in this economy, the mindset of a lot of people is, charge it!

                                                      1. re: Dee S

                                                        I read an article in Newsweek, I think, that asserted that the cardiovascular health of New Yorker City residents was better than just about anywhere else in the country. This made no sense to the people conducting the study until they conducted another study of the amount of exercise that New York City residents get.

                                                        It is quite a bit because these residents walk around the city a lot and, therefore, get more exercise. Cabs are expensive and, also, it is often much faster just to walk where you want to go, rather than take public transportation.

                                                        Also, the study could not really account for this but noted that New Yorkers walk AGGRESSIVELY. They don't lolligag along. They are purpose-driven and power walk where they are going, according to the study.

                                                        1. re: gfr1111

                                                          "Also, the study could not really account for this but noted that New Yorkers walk AGGRESSIVELY."

                                                          I forget which side studied the other first (man looking at beast or beast looking at man) but Darwin's theory that the Zebra who "lolligag(ed) along" typically ended up being had over for dinner by a hungry pride of Lions.

                                                      2. I think it might have a little bit to do with humidity-induced torpor.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. new study reported in bbs news says kids eat like their same-sex parent.

                                                          i'm still reserving myself to comment on the blatant stereotypes on this thread.

                                                          2 Replies
                                                          1. re: alkapal

                                                            Please- don't reserve yourself! I want to hear your take!

                                                            1. re: alkapal

                                                              I’ve done bit clear through my lip already!

                                                              I’ve never viewed obesity in the south as any different from obesity in the north, west or east.