As an avid kayaker, I know I could get a workout just paddling across some parts of the Mississippi River. And after reading a new 50-state report on obesity, I'm beginning to suspect the one thing wider than the Mississippi is Mississippians.
Once again Mississippi is numero uno in America when it comes to obesity, with over 33 percent of residents officially obese. And once again Colorado is the slimmest in the nation, coming in just under 20 percent. (North Carolina is ranked tenth in the U.S., with 29.4 percent.)
As usual the focus is on "why" and "how": why are we fat, and how do we fix it?
The report from the Trust for America's Health offers a slew of government-focused solutions: support farmers markets, improve school lunch nutrition, and improve health care guidance.
A lot of them are anything but controversial. But the government's track record on obesity shows that bureaucrats and politicians shouldn't be relied on for a weight-loss plan.
Just look at Ohio, where teachers unions recently opposed legislation that would give kids up to 30 more minutes of exercise every school day. Why? Because it would take time away from academics. (Never mind the well-established finding that exercise improves kids' test scores along with their health.)
And federal legislation to improve school lunch nutrition funding has come under assault from all kinds of special interests, from organic lovers to animal rights activists, who want their agendas on the menu.
The point is that even the simplest, most no-brainer of policies can run into political roadblocks.
The best strategy to fighting the Battle of the Bulge lies in another of the report's findings: Massive Mississippi has the highest rate of inactivity-while svelte Colorado has the second lowest.
Coincidence? Not likely.
It's a pattern that runs throughout the states. States like Tennessee, Alabama, and West Virginia have top 10 rates for both obesity and couch potatoes. Meanwhile, states like Utah, Vermont, and Hawaii are in the top 10 for being both slim and active.
It's not that people in Dixie have larger appetites than Coloradoans and Hawaiians. It's simply that after an afternoon of hiking, skiing, or surfing, it's easier to keep off the weight by balancing calories in (from food) and calories expended (through exercise).
Is it that simple? Aren't restaurants to blame? They're certainly a common target. Greasy fast-food, large portions, and convenience must be a culprit, right? Not exactly.
A recent study by researchers and UC-Berkeley and Northwestern University looked for a relationship between living near restaurants and the prevalence of obesity. Bottom line: Nada.
And a 2007 study in the International Journal of Obesity concluded: "The obesity epidemic is often speculatively blamed on fast food, when actual evidence shows very little, if any, association of fast food with weight gain."
It's an inconvenient truth for the steady cadre of public health experts and "food police" who are yearning for strong government controls-read: taxes and bans-on foods and business they deem unhealthy. Their ultimate goal is to take away choices in the name of health.
But we need not get heartburn over the food fanatics who are trying to shove their agendas down our collective throats. If we eat in moderation and get plenty of exercise, we can have our cake and eat it, too.