Saturday, April 13, 2013

Are Southerners Fatter than Northerners? (Who Cares?)

Are Southerners fatter than Northerners? Not necessarily, says Liz Klimas:

In other words, the statistics that showed a higher average weight in the South seem more reliable than those that suggested a healthier average weight in the North.

Personally, I don't trust this kind of statistics. What use is comparing the size of the average person in different places? Here's a statistic that I'm sure holds true for every city in North America: If a city is big enough to have a "Chinatown" neighborhood, the average body size will be both shorter and less obese in "Chinatown" than it is in most other neighborhoods of the city. And so what? That tells us something about the genetic and cultural background of people who choose to live and work in Chinatowns, but what does it tell either Chinese-Americans or other kinds of Americans about our health?

Here in Virginia, a Southern state, I see a lot of obese people waddling around in stores, in churches, between stores or churches and their cars. They are not waddling because they are Southerners. They may want to think they are waddling because they inherited obese genes, but in many cases they're wrong--how often I've visited slim, fit, healthy senior citizens who have big, bloated, grotesque-looking grandchildren. The grandchildren are waddling because they drive when they ought to walk, they watch TV when they ought to be asleep, and they eat greasy restaurant food when their bodies are silently screaming for something sweet, juicy, raw, fresh from under the hose in the garden, only, unlike the grandparents, these grandchildren don't have gardens. Does it make any difference whether Northerners, or for that matter our neighbors and unequal trading partners across the Tennessee line, are fatter, less fat, or about the same on average?

Well, maybe it does. Yankees are annoying enough about the civil rights movement without giving them anything else to be annoying about.

But when I think about my town as a unique, valuable, irreplaceable part of America, I don't see Yankees as the big danger we collectively need to worry about. A couch-potato, welfare-cheat lifestyle that fosters obesity is more of a threat to my part of Virginia than Yankees ever were, even during the Civil War, or are likely ever to become.