Healthiest children … in wealthy zip-codes

It’s a little provocative sounding, but the research from Adam Drewnowski at the University of Washington shows most of the obesity and overweight epidemic is closely tied to poverty.

I’ve been blogging about obesity issues all week (see “recent posts” or the tag “obesity”).  Today, I talked to Drewnowski.  I’ll share more about his ideas later. But, this one merits re-stating.  In work that was published in 2008, he took the basic federal data on obesity trends, and overlaid that onto a map of King County.  The wealthier the zip code, as measured by property values, the lower the obesity rates, and vice versa.

He told me the data might have been even more dramatic, because it turns out that the wealthiest areas (such as Medina) are not even represented.  As he put it, Rich people don’t answer surveys.

For the past two years, he’s been digging into some of the reasons why poor people are less healthy.  His baseline theory is the most obvious: eating well and taking care of yourself can be expensive, in time and money.

In work to be presented soon, he’ll argue against the idea that poor people need more grocery stores and fresh produce sold in their neighborhoods.  It turns out, most people will go several miles to get their groceries (except for the very poorest 1%).  Some people drive to the cheapest store, others drive to what they see as the better quality store. So, having more grocery stores wouldn’t make a difference.

You might get different results in Los Angeles, or Detroit — two cities where a lot of the research was conducted re.  lack of access to grocery stores.  He says that work doesn’t hold for Seattle/King County.

He does see a role for better food education (such as, cooking classes).  I’ll have that report Friday morning on KPLU.

Sodas and sugary drinks, an obesity culprit

How much blame goes to the beverage industry?  NPR’s All Things Considered is looking into this topic (yesterday and today).

Many states are planning to tax sodas.  Washington has jumped on this one, too. The taxes are mostly to help fill budget gaps, and way too small to make a meaningful health difference.

The man who’s studied this the most, and made it into a crusade, says the tax needs to be much higher than any state is considering: a penny-an-ounce.  That would add 12 cents to a can of soda, and more than 60 cents to those 2-liter bottles.  Kelly Brownell, of Yale University’s Rudd Center on Food Policy and Obesity, argues this would compel Americans to make healthier choices.

Yesterday’s NPR reports included a good overview from Jeff Brady, plus a pair of interviews by Michelle Norris.  Several listeners told me they felt Norris was too easy on the beverage industry spokesperson.

Studies have shown a pretty strong correlation between soft-drink consumption and weight gain.  And, the beverage industry response that Americans just need more exercise?  Exercise is good, but it’s not a major factor in the obesity crisis and can’t compensate for the big jump in calorie consumption.  The scientific evidence is pretty strong on that.  But, nutritionists will also tell you it’s too simplistic to think that cutting down on sodas by itself will solve the weight-gain problem.  It’s an important step, but there are additional dietary problems.