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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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8. Ohio

Ohio, which Gallup considers the eighth fattest state in the U.S. with an obesity rate of 30.9%, is very much a swing state in presidential elections. Obama carried Ohio (where Republican Gov. John Kasich is seeking reelection this year) in 2008 and 2012, but it took a lot of hard and aggressive campaigning. So why is there so much obesity in Ohio? A lot of it has to do with the fact that Ohio, like other parts of the Rust Belt, has been hit hard by the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs to developing countries. Outsourcing has created a lot of poverty in Ohio (which, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, has a poverty rate of 15.3%).

According to Mary Nally, executive director of Community Food Initiatives in Athens, Ohio, 20% of the people living in Athens County suffer from food insecurity—and Nally has said that “There’s a strong relationship between being food-insecure and being obese.” Nally has noted that in some rural parts of Athens County, the poor suffer from inadequate access to fresh fruits and vegetables and are more likely to eat an abundance of unhealthy processed food. Underscoring Ohio’s swing-state outlook is the fact that Kasich is among the few Republican governors who has agreed to a Medicaid expansion under Obamacare.

9. Kentucky

When health insurance companies send out literature encouraging Americans to get more exercise, eat healthfully and lose weight, they aren’t doing it out of the goodness of their hearts. They realize that if Obamacare is going to bring them a lot of new customers, it will cost them less if those customers are taking better care of themselves. But embracing a healthy lifestyle can be harder if one is poor, and Kentucky is a “red state” with a lot of poverty and a lot of obesity. According to Gallup, Kentucky is the U.S.’ ninth fattest state with an obesity rate of 30.6%—and according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Kentucky’s poverty rate increased to 19.4% in 2012. But Ron Crouch, director of research at the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, has predicted that Obamacare will create a lot of new healthcare jobs in Kentucky, possibly helping offset the loss of so many manufacturing jobs in that state, where Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, has been a strong Obamacare supporter.   

10. Oklahoma

The 10th most obese state in the U.S., according to Gallup, is Oklahoma, where there is an obesity rate of 30.5% and poverty reached a 10-year high in 2012. Oklahoma is also a hardcore red state where Republican Gov. Mary Fallin has refused Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion even though many people lack health insurance there. Oklahoma is a textbook example of why healthcare reform is desperately needed in the U.S. According to a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, about 144,000 poor, uninsured Oklahoma residents would be eligible for Medicaid assistance under Obamacare, but thanks to Fallin and other Oklahoma Republicans, they are being left out in the cold.

Alex Henderson's work has appeared in the L.A. Weekly, Billboard, Spin, Creem, the Pasadena Weekly and many other publications. Follow him on Twitter @alexvhenderson.

 
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