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The obesity crisis is growing faster in rural areas than in major cities

Published May 9th, 2019 8:08PM EDT
obesity data
Image: REX/Shutterstock

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You don’t need to look far to find some seriously troubling data regarding obesity in the United States and abroad. Waistlines are growing, and with them comes increased risks of a myriad of diseases. You could point fingers at a number of possible causes — the prevalence of fast food, inadequate nutrition education in our schools, etc — but to curb the trend it’s beneficial to know who, exactly, is getting bigger.

A new study led by Imperial College London crunched a huge amount of data to help paint a picture of where increasingly overweight people tend to reside, and the conclusions are actually incredibly interesting.

You might assume that residents of major cities are more likely to fall into obesity given the fact that they’re surrounded by cheap, high-calorie food options every second of the day. Rural residents don’t have a McDonald’s around the corner, so it would make sense that they would be a bit less prone to increased on the bathroom scale.

However, that doesn’t seem to actually be the case. According to the study, which was published in Nature, the average body mass index of individuals in rural areas of the United States increased at a greater rate than city dwellers between 1985 and 2017. The difference was significant, with rural folks gaining as much as 60% more than their city-dwelling counterparts.

“The results of this massive global study overturn commonly held perceptions that more people living in cities is the main cause of the global rise in obesity,” Professor Majid Ezzati, senior author of the work, said in a statement. “This means that we need to rethink how we tackle this global health problem.”

The researchers suggest that despite some of the perceived downsides of living in cities, as mentioned before, the health upsides offset them. City dwellers can walk or bike to nearby locations, have a larger selection of foods available to them, and generally live more active lives than someone in a rural area that may commute to a city for work, spending much of their time sitting in a car or office.