Excerpt From Hank Cardello's 'Stuffed'

While some of America's obesity problem can be explained by our lineage, some of it can also be explained by where you live. Regionalism is also very apparent in the overweight sector. In the Midwest, we know that meat and potatoes are American staples, and fried chicken and biscuits tend to rule in southern kitchens. Regional cuisine is a wonderful and defining characteristic of American food, but as it has been practiced, it is also woefully heavy. According to the Centers for Disease Control's Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance System, the East South Central states (Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee) had the highest obesity rate. Mississippi has been fingered as the fattest state. The West South Central states (Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas) were only a percentage point behind. To be fair, several other regions were right up there on the "fatness" scale.

Shifting the focus from the regional level to the city level, the numbers change little. Men's Fitness magazine publishes an annual study of the cities in the country with the most people who are overweight. The editors use several criteria including air and water quality, availability of parks and open spaces, drinking alcoholic beverages, length of commute, percentage of overweight and sedentary residents, smoking, and sports participation. And the magazine added number of fast-food restaurants as an additional factor for the first time in 2006. Though the magazine's results are not based on strictly scientific study methods, they are worth noting because they offer a different array of data. While Las Vegas earned the number one ranking in 2007, four of the top ten of the fattest cities were in Texas again: Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and El Paso.

In New York City, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene found a lack of healthy foods in the Bedford-Stuyvesant and Bushwick neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Those areas have some of the city's highest obesity rates. In Bedford-Stuyvesant, for example, 30 percent of adults are obese, while the average city rate is 20 percent. The agency reported that only one in three bodegas (small corner Hispanic markets, which are often the main food shopping locations in neighborhoods that lack larger supermarkets) in Bedford-Stuyvesant sold reduced-fat milk, even though 90 percent of the surrounding supermarkets stocked alternatives like Lactaid or 1% or 2% milk. Alarmed at the makeup of the standard bodega's offerings, the city began promoting a milk program in neighborhoods like central Brooklyn, the South Bronx, and Harlem.

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