A new study published in the Journal of Rural Health suggests that rural Americans are almost 20% more likely to fit the clinical definition of obesity (BMI over 30) than their city-dwelling counterparts. The study relied on clinical data—i.e. people weighed and measured at doctors' offices—rather than self-reported data. The change, researchers speculate, has something to do with rural food deserts, lack of access to fitness facilities, and that sweet spot where traditional gigantic farm breakfasts meet increased agricultural mechanization. In other words, people have trouble getting a hold of healthy foods, personal trainers aren't wandering around the corn fields (nor is there money to pay them if they were), and farmers just aren't hoeing off their ham steaks like they used to.
The study surveyed over 8,800 Americans and found that 39 percent of rural americans fit the definition of obesity, compared to only 33 percent of urban Americans:
"The differences between rural and urban were most pronounced for younger adults between the ages of 20 and 39," said [Christie Befort, assistant professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine at the University of Kansas Medical Center]. The researchers suspect that the increasing mechanization of rural jobs may be the cause. "The diet hasn't necessarily changed at the same time the manual labor requirements have gone down."
...Certain ethnic groups in rural areas are also at greater risk for obesity. Barry M. Popkin, professor of nutrition at the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who was not involved with the study, points out that this study also shows that rural blacks and Hispanics are more likely to be obese than urban blacks and Hispanics.
Now, it's important to note that the BMI scale is, to a certain extent, specious bullshit used to whip up panic about the "obesity epidemic." But however imperfect BMI might be as an indicator of overall health, we can use it, in this case, to see that people of certain geographic areas, ethnicities, and economic classes tend to be larger than people of contrasting backgrounds. That knowledge is valuable. That knowledge is good for fat people, rural people, and all people.
It's a common (and willfully, cynically propagated) misconception that the size acceptance movement has something to do with "glorifying obesity" or encouraging people to be fat. But it's not size acceptance activists who are denying the existence of food deserts and telling the rural poor that they just need to get on a treadmill—that's the hardline calories-in/calories-out evangelicals. Fat people don't want to feed kids garbage and cut P.E.—that's our shitty government and taxpayers who care more about war than education.
Fat people don't want to make more fat people, because fat people know that being fat sucks. Everyone is mean to you, you can't fit on roller coasters, you never get to go swimming, and stores are constantly trying to make you wear a terrible caftan. (Seriously though, the exclusion of fat people from swimming is worth a revolution all by itself.) The ONLY point of size acceptance is to make life a little more tolerable for fat people who are currently fat and/or might never cease being fat and/or don't feel like putting their lives on hold to chase thinness and thereby justify their existence to bigots. It's about staking out the right to be happy now, no matter what your body looks like. The size acceptance crowd wants everyone, urban and rural, to have access to healthy food, because having access to healthy food is a key factor in quality of life. And both of these issues—size acceptance and the health of the rural poor—come down to the same thing: basic humanity. Promoting health and shaming fat people are not on the same side of the coin—they are opposites.
The closer we get to figuring out the deep cultural and economic forces that shape America's bodies, the sooner we can start focusing on that shit and stop focusing on being dicks to fat people. And then fat people can get back to doing what they should have been doing this entire time, which is obviously fucking swimming!!!
Image by Pan Xunbin/Shutterstock.