14 June 2014

Is It the Chicken or the Egg? Do Unhealthy Food Options Lead or Follow Obesity?

Steve Martin: I ordered a chicken and an egg from Amazon. I'll let you know.

In the last year or so I've made numerous trips to Boulder, CO. One thing I find remarkable is how easily I can get really healthy food in the vicinity of the hotel. There are a number of places that offer lots of vegan and vegetarian options, and even "traditional" fare is more likely to come with lots of healthy vegetables.

By contrast, once working with a client north of Indianapolis, every restaurant around made it easy to get plenty of fried foods but really hard to get vegetables other than iceberg lettuce.

Gallup has a listing of the metropolitan areas around the US, allowing you to sort them by factors like percentage of folks who are obese. Boulder, CO tops the list with only 12.4% who are obese. Indianapolis? It's more than halfway down the list with 27.4%. A friend who taught in a small town in Louisiana said that there were only two restaurants in the town and both served fried chicken; Louisiana is second only to Mississippi on the list of states with the highest rates of obesity.

It's hard to know whether restaurants and grocery stores lead or follow levels of obesity. Does obesity cause bad restaurants to spring up in an area or do bad restaurants cause obesity? Given the cost of obesity, it would be worth experimenting with various incentives and subsidies to determine how much a change in food offered could change waistlines. I'm convinced that I ate differently in Boulder than I did in northern Indianapolis; I suspect that I'm not the only one.


Anonymous said...

Oprah Winfrey (of all people) said something one time that stuck with me. She said, "I am a substance abuser- and the substance I abuse is food."

I see myself in that. When stressful times come, I head straight for that macaroni and cheese. I know it's bad for me, but I also know why they call it "comfort food."

Ron Davison said...

Thomas - I've sometimes wondered if food might be tougher than drugs. Drugs you can stay away from completely: food you have to moderate.