Tag: Geography

What’s Behind the Obesity Epidemic? Easily Accessible Food, and Lots of It

Among the American public and even some policymakers, it has become conventional wisdom that poverty, a dearth of supermarkets, reduced leisure time, and insufficient exercise are key forces behind the U.S. obesity epidemic.

Conventional wisdom is an unreliable guide, however, and in this case, much of it is wrong: The epidemic actually coincides with a falling share of income spent on food, wider availability of fruits and vegetables, increased leisure time, and more exercise among the general population.

Of course, there are differences between individuals, but we need to explain the change in obesity over time, not why people differ. Some differences in body mass index (BMI) are associated with genetic makeup. But genes haven’t changed in the past 50 years, so differences between individuals don’t explain trends.

Data from a new analysis of this issue indicates that the same argument applies to other characteristics, such as geography. Southern hospitality’s heavy food hasn’t caused the obesity epidemic any more than an active Colorado lifestyle has prevented it. There are differences at a given point in time, but the trend is the same, as shown in the figure below.

Percentage of Population with a BMI Over 25 in California, Colorado, and Mississippi


SOURCE: Calculations based on Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey; smooth trend adjusted for 2010 demographics.

Increases in obesity have also been surprisingly similar by level of education and by racial/ethnic group, as the following figures show.

Increase in Average BMI Nationwide, by Highest Education Level Achieved


SOURCE: Calculations based on Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey; smooth trend adjusted for 2010 demographics.Continue reading…

Visualizing the Threat Posed by Antibiotic Resistance

For the first time, researchers and policymakers can visually track the rise in “superbug” infections over time and identify regions of the country with rapidly spreading rates of resistance.

Researchers at Extending the Cure, a nonprofit project funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Pioneer Portfolio, have developed ResistanceMap—an online tool that tracks changes in resistance levels. These maps show us how the problem of antibiotic resistance has gotten worse–with some regions of the country experiencing a significant and worrying increase in drug- resistant microbes.

Infections like those caused by MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) kill an estimated 100,000 people in the United States each year. Progress toward solving this emerging public health crisis has been slow, an important reason why the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has funded this research through its Pioneer Portfolio. We share a common view that the best way to prevent an epidemic from occurring may lie in dramatically reframing how we approach the problem.

This is exactly what Extending the Cure has done with ResistanceMap, a web tool that presents scientific data in a user-friendly way, allowing policymakers and researchers to quickly identify regions in urgent need of better infection control, enhanced surveillance, more vigilant antibiotic stewardship, and comprehensive methods to curtail the spread of resistant microbes.Continue reading…

Where Doctors Locate

Pop quiz. How many doctors are at the top of Mt. Everest? None, actually. Yet, think about how many people get sick up there. Think about how many die? Do you think extra bonus payments could coax a few doctors to relocate up there? What if we waived their student loan debt? If you find these questions interesting, there’s clearly something wrong with you. But cheer up. As the map below shows, there is a lot of variation in the number of people per doctors across Texas counties. [Thanks to Jason Roberson and his colleagues at The Dallas Morning News for making the data available.] At one extreme, Bandera County in the Texas Hill Country has 21,266 people and only one doctor. At the other extreme, Baylor County, near the Oklahoma border, has 666 patients per doctor.


Should we care about any of this? If so, why?

Before getting into specifics, let me address a cultural issue that I believe greatly prejudices all discussions of doctor location.

Bandera County bills itself as “The Cowboy Capital of the World.” It clearly promotes tourism. But the online reviews of its eight area restaurants don’t make me want to visit any time soon. Ditto for the online reviews of its 10 hotels, motels and dude ranches. Still, a lot of people visit there and it has a growing population.

Continue reading…