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The 10 Most Obese States in America (And the Right-Wing Policies That Promote Poor Health)

Republicans promote policies that entrench poverty, and obesity and poverty often go together.

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3. Delaware

Although the least obese states in Gallup’s poll were generally either swing states or blue states (including California, Hawaii, New York and Connecticut), Gallup considers Democrat-dominated Delaware the third most obese state in the country thanks to an obesity rate of 34.3%. Very much a blue state, Delaware hasn’t given its electoral votes to a GOP presidential candidate since George H.W. Bush, Sr.’s victory over Michael Dukakis in 1988. Delaware’s obesity problem cannot honestly be blamed on Republicans, but arguably, it reflects the growing inequality in the Democratic side of America. Democratic America ranges from ultra-gentrified, upscale places like Seattle, San Francisco and Manhattan to the most blue-collar parts of Delaware, and blue-collar America has been slammed hard by the current economic downturn.

In September 2013, Democratic Sen. Robert Marshall of Wilmington asserted that Delaware needed to start creating a lot more high-paying jobs that don’t require a college degree. Though Marshall didn’t mention obesity, his point was relevant to a discussion of obesity because a lack of quality blue-collar jobs contributes to poverty—which in turn, leads to obesity.

4. Louisiana

Right behind Delaware when it comes to obesity is the heavily Republican Louisiana, which has an obesity rate of 32.7% in Gallup’s study—and Louisiana has also had, according to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2012, a poverty rate of 19.9% (the third highest in the U.S.). A state with as much poverty and obesity as Louisiana is a prime example of why healthcare reform needs to go forward, yet Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (a possible candidate in the 2016 GOP presidential primary) has called for repealing Obamacare. Obesity and all the problems that go with it, from heart disease to high blood pressure to Type 2 diabetes, are better controlled when one has adequate access to healthcare, and Republicans like Jindal only make it harder for the poor to see a doctor.

5. Arkansas

Although Arkansas’ current two-term governor, Mike Beebe, is a Democrat, the state on the whole remains very Republican-leaning—and according to Gallup, it has the U.S.’ fifth highest obesity rate: 32.3%. The fact that obesity and poverty go hand in hand is evident in Arkansas, which had a poverty rate of 18.7% in 2011 (according to the U.S. Census Bureau). Arkansas children, according to the 2011 Kids Count Data Book, are facing the second highest child poverty rate in the United States. In a state with all that obesity and poverty, Republican State Sen. Nate Bell’s “solution” to those problems is to fight Medicaid expansion and discourage Arkansas’ uninsured from singing up for Obamacare.  

6. South Carolina

The sixth most obese state in the U.S., according to Gallup, is South Carolina (a Republican-leaning state that Obama won in 2008 but lost in 2012). South Carolina has a poverty rate of 17.6%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Around 764,000 South Carolina residents lacked health insurance in 2011 (according to a study conducted for the South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services), but Republican Gov. Nikki Haley has rejected Medicaid expansion via Obamacare in her state. In addition to helping keep South Carolina’s poor uninsured, Haley has contributed to their poverty by being fiercely anti-union: Haley infamously said, “I love that we are one of the least unionized states in the country.”

7. Tennessee

The state Gallup cites as the seventh fattest in the U.S. is Tennessee, which has an obesity rate of 31.3 percent. And like other southern states, it is very Republican-dominated. Republicans aren’t big on anti-poverty programs—which, in effect, are also anti-obesity programs given the relationship between poverty and obesity—and in Tennessee, the U.S. Census Bureau found a poverty rate of 17.3% for 2008-2012. Plus, Tennessee is a so-called “right to work” state, meaning it’s very weak on union protection. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has rejected Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion in his state, where around one million residents lacked health insurance in 2013. To make matters worse for Tennessee residents who are obese, poor and uninsured, Tennessee Republicans have proposed legislation that would outlaw Obamacare exchanges throughout the state.

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