During my recent Michigan trip, I made several visits to Meijer. Going to the outfit that pioneered the superstore concept always takes me back to my childhood, and I was pleased to see that they still offer the kids penny rides on the mechanical horse.
But I noticed something else in my shopping there: Michigan residents are fat. While pacing the aisles looking for coffee and oatmeal, I wondered if I had stumbled across the pages ofPeople of WalMart.
When I got back to Minnesota, where I now live, I did a little research (translation: ran some searches on Google) to see if my impressions were influenced by the fact that I normally don’t shop that much. Perhaps fat has always been there, and I haven’t seen it.
Unfortunately, the answer is: No. I wasn’t imagining it. Residents of Michigan are fatter than those of the average state ” by, ahem, a large margin.
Here’s some data. United Health Group, a major insurance company, puts out “America’s Health Rankings” (AHR), a website that collects stats for each state, including Michigan.
According to AHR, Michigan ranks 42nd in the country in terms of obesity, tied with Louisiana, Tennessee, and Texas. (The higher the number, the greater the prevalence of obesity.)
The most obese states? Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Carolina, and West Virginia.
Notice any commonalities? The only ones that are not fatter than Michigan are southern.
Maybe it’s their diet? But not all southern states are heavier than Michigan. Southern states that “weighed less” than Michigan were Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia.
Why is Michigan so fat? That’s the two-ton question. I looked at the numbers.
Since many statistics in life (education, income, etc.) vary across demographic categories, I thought it might be useful to look there.
Lily-white Vermont has an obesity rank of 8, so perhaps race has something to do with it. The obesity rate of Michigan’s “non-Hispanic blacks” is 41.1 percent. That’s higher than the rate of every state outside the south, except for Delaware, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin. “Non-Hispanic whites” too, are heavier than average, with 29.1 percent falling into the obese category. That means that Michigan’s white population was fatter than that of the white population of all non-southern states, except for Missouri, Oklahoma, and West Virginia. (Note that those three states might, depending on who is counting and for what purpose, are sometimes considered part of the south.)
How about income? For some reason, fat people tend to be poor, so I looked at a table that ranks states by the percentage of their population that was below the federal poverty line in 2010. There were 19 states with a greater percentage of people in poverty than Michigan, but when I cross-referenced that list with with the AHR list, I found 8 of them still had a smaller percentage of fat people. (There were: Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, New Mexico, Nevada, and North Carolina.)
Take a look at states by their annual average income and you’ll find a similar story. Poor states tend to be fatter, and wealthy states tend to be skinnier. But there are exceptions – and Michigan is one of them. It’s slightly above the average in income (correlated with less fat) but also fatter than nearly every state – rich and poor alike.
You might come up with other explanations, such as video games and junk food, but those exist in other states as well.
What’s unique about Michigan? Maybe it’s just one of those statistical flukes that has no explanation. Or maybe I could say something with more certainty had I come up with a regression analysis, which researchers use to isolate the relative importance of things that might explain what they’re interested in explaining.
But to a large extent, I think even then I would be taking what the research community calls a “SWAG” (a fancy way of saying “wild guess”).
Gov. Snyder has exhibited hints of being another nanny ruler, along the lines of New York City’s mayor. So I hesitate to give him more ammunition for his cause, but his staff knows this stuff anyway.
The question for everyone else: Why are Michiganders so fat, and what, if anything, can be done about it in ways that are compatible with freedom?