By Matt Rozsa
What makes certain cities healthy and others unhealthy?
The healthiest eaters in America’s large cities are found in the metropolitan areas of San Francisco-Oakland (CA), New York-Newark-Long Island (NY/NJ/CT), Sacramento-Arden-Arcade-Roseville (CA), San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos (CA), and Washington-Arlen-Alexandria (DC/VA/MD). On average, the residents in these metropolises eat 34 to 37 servings of fruits and vegetables each week, including 11 to 13 servings of fruit, 5 to 7 servings of green salad, 2 to 4 servings of carrots, and 13 to 15 servings of other vegetables.
By contrast, America’s most obese cities are notorious for their deep-fried cuisines. The three most obese cities in the country are all from the South: Memphis, Birmingham, and San Antonio. As the American Heart Journal has found, a “Southern” style diet is the worst possible choice for your cardiovascular health.
More than anything, these statistics underscore the importance of maintaining a well-balanced diet. For an intake of 2,000 calories each day, the average person will each day need to consume 6 to 8 servings of grains, 4 to 5 servings of fruits and vegetables, 2 to 3 servings of low-or-no-fat dairy products, 2 to 3 servings of fats and oils, and 6 or fewer servings of lean meats, poultry and seafood. Sweets should generally be avoided to remain under 2,000 calories, although it is okay to have 5 or fewer each week; similarly, one shouldn’t have more than 4 to 5 servings of nuts, seeds, and legumes on a weekly basis.
Because so much of our diet is based around cultural pressures, cities with culinary traditions that mesh with our body’s needs contain healthier citizens. On the other hand, a poor dietary culture — such as one that favors deep-fried dishes, as in the Southern United States — will result in a larger section of the population succumbing to obesity.
If we want to make the public healthier, we need to encourage awareness both of unhealthy cultural traditions that should be reevaluated (and perhaps even modified) and alleviate the financial burdens that prevent low-income individuals from making the healthiest possible eating choices. Sometimes the solution to national problems like the obesity epidemic involve little more than common sense.