The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that over 26 percent of Americans are obese, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently noted that an estimated 97 million adults in the United States are overweight or obese. For the adult population, obesity and being overweight are defined based on an individual’s body mass index (BMI) – between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight, and over 30 is considered obese. Obese individuals are at an increased risk for a number of diseases and conditions including: hypertension, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, and stroke.
Time Magazine reports that, according to a report from Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Mississippi has the highest rate of adult obesity nationwide – 33 percent. In addition to being noted as the most obese state for the fifth year in a row, with 21 percent of the population living below the poverty line (per the U.S. Census Bureau), Mississippi is also noted as one of the poorest in the nation. Recent reports indicate that areas with lower rates of obesity such as Colorado, which has the lowest national obesity rate (18.9 percent), are not only usually more affluent than the heavier southern states, but also possess more temperate climates and easier access to outdoor activities.
A report from the Baltimore Sun indicates that in addition to obesity, Americans, particularly children, are also at risk for malnutrition. Despite consuming an adequate or excessive number of calories, obese individuals are not selecting foods that are nutritionally beneficial. Though slightly different from the malnutrition seen in developing nations, Americans lacking vitamins and minerals may also have weakened immune systems. A 2008 study by the Baltimore Health Department indicated that 13.5 percent of Baltimore families with young children lived in a state of “food insecurity,” meaning that they routinely ran out of food or were worried that they would not have enough food. These families often inhabit areas that do not have ready access to supermarkets and grocery stores, known as “urban food deserts.” This lack of options leads individuals and families to select items that are higher in calories but less expensive, and that are also available from convenience stores or fast food restaurants.
In an effort to increase the availability of food with substantial nutrition, many communities have established community gardens or have encouraged residents to purchase shares in community supported agriculture (CSA) programs. Through community gardens, participants are able to gain a sense of increased food security, save money, increase their environmental awareness, and provide nutritious food to their families. For individuals in urban settings or those who may not be able to participate in programs to grow their own produce, CSA programs may be available. By supporting local farms and farmers, those who choose to buy shares are able to receive locally grown fruits and vegetables and may see a cost-savings over commercially available produce. In cities like Chicago and others worldwide, individuals and businesses may also participate in “greening” efforts aimed at lowering carbon emissions and producing nutritious foods. Rooftop gardens also help to lower heating and cooling costs and reduce rainwater runoff as well as providing nutritious food.
CDC Information on Obesity – NIH Report on Obesity – Time Magazine on Southern Obesity – Trust for America’s Health Report – Baltimore Sun Report – Press Release on Chicago’s Urban Food Desert – On Rooftop Gardens