Uncommonwealth: If thin were in here, Kentucky would be better off

ctruman@herald-leader.comAugust 20, 2012 

Last week Kentucky got the kind of ranking you won't be seeing anybody brag about: A new government survey showed that 12 states, including our commonwealth, now have very high obesity rates.

At least 30 percent of adults are obese in Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and West Virginia. The figures came from a 2011 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Colorado was lowest, at slightly less than 21 percent. But Colorado is worried about the increase in obesity in its traditionally fit population, as I saw in March when I attended a National Press Foundation/Colorado Center for Health and Wellness workshop on obesity in Aurora, Colo.

What did I learn from the week's lineup of superstars in the field of obesity and weight control — including experts in diet, economy, physiology and "food deserts"? Mainly that it's not your metabolism and not your genetics. It's diet, exercise and portion control. If you want to lose more weight, increase your intensity of exercise, watch less TV and pay more attention to low-fat items in your diet.

Hearing the cackles of the experts over the number of times they hear people blame their metabolism for their fat was an epiphanic moment. I've made that excuse myself.

It's sad but necessary to acknowledge that you don't move as much as you think, that you eat far more than you need, and that sitting motionless at your desk all day invites your posterior to spread. You are more productive if you exercise, the experts said, because it makes your brain more active as well.

Simply put, there is no end to the benefits of exercise and no gain from the immobility that so many of us force on ourselves. There is no gain from junk food, ever. Even Coloradans have to be told this, though, hence the existence of the specialty weight-control center at the immaculately planned Aurora medical campus.

The question that I kept asking about during the week also turned out to have a rather simple answer: Does Colorado's ranking as among the nation's thinnest boost its economic prospects?

The answer: Yes. But then, economic development is a complicated equation that also involves an unwavering commitment to education. It also helps to have infrastructure such as the dramatically white-peaked new airport in Denver.

The Louisville airport — a UPS hub — and Northern Kentucky airport qualify as the kind of infrastructure that brings economic development, but seeing Kentucky in the light of a national forum shows that others look on us as light on education and heavy on fried food. That is exactly the wrong formula for substantive economic development, which thrives in areas that have consistently high levels of education attainment, good schools across the state from kindergarten to postgraduate, modern roads, international airports and artistic accomplishment.

And thin people.

Thin people aren't just more likely to be highly educated; they're also less likely to cost their companies exorbitant amounts in health insurance.

That's not what any Kentuckian wants to hear, particularly those of us who are dug into the state and longtime fans of fried catfish. Life is harder when you're fat, and prosperity mirrors life.

Cheryl Truman: (859)231-3202. Twitter: @CherylTruman.

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