Week two assignment for Bodies & Buildings:
For this assignment, research a part of the world at a local level (city, state, province, county) that has a problem with obesity. The only requirement: pick somewhere that you have never been.
In a one page essay, describe the social, cultural, technological, economic, and other conditions of this region that may be contributing to a growth in the prevalence of obesity. You may choose to write a non-fiction account or take this as a creative writing assignment – imagining a first person day-in-the-life account of what it feels like to live here.
Lakeland-Winter Haven, FL is a Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) in central Florida. In 2011, it was listed number 7 on a Gallup Poll list of most obese metro areas in the U.S. with 33.5% of the population considered obese, compared to 26.1% nationwide. What drew my attention to Lakeland-Winter Haven is that a city only 150 miles away (Naples-Marco Island, FL) was on Gallup’s list of least obese metro areas. I wondered what could be responsible for such a big difference in cities so close to each other.
According to Gallup, “blacks, those aged 45 to 64, and low-income Americans continue to be the most likely to be classified as obese…Those aged 18 to 29 and higher-income Americans remain the least likely to be obese.” Given this information, I would expect that in areas where obesity is a greater problem there would also be larger populations of African-Americans, lower income individuals/households, and middle-aged people. According to the 2010 Census, African-Americans make up 14.5% of the Lakeland-Winter Haven population, and 19.2% are between the ages of 50-64. (The 2010 Census county divisions (CCDs) don’t align exactly with Gallup’s MSAs, but I think looking at the Lakeland CCD and the Winter Haven-Auburndale CCD together approximate the Lakeland-Winter Haven MSA.) To try and determine whether or not those percentages might have any significance, I did a quick comparison with Naples-Marco Island. Only 5.5% of the Naples-Marcos Island population is African-American, but 20.2% are age 50-64. So that didn’t really answer my question.
Next I turned to the third characteristic Gallup lists, income. The best income information I could find came from American Fact Finder, part of the Census Bureau, which sources the data from the 2007-2011 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates. This data is available by state, city, county, town or zip, but not by CCD or MSA, so the comparison isn’t perfect. Median household income in Lakeland city was $40,650 with 15.8% of individuals below poverty level and in Winter Haven city median household income was $36,895 with 22.3% of individuals below poverty level. By comparison, Naples city had a median household income of $77,158 with only 7.4% of individuals below poverty level.
Another statistic that relates to income is unemployment. Looking at information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Lakeland-Winter Haven has recently suffered from higher than average unemployment rates: 12.2% in 2010 compared to 9.6% nationally, 11.6% in 2011 (8.9% nationally), and 9.7% in 2012 (8.1% nationally). I would conclude that the low income and high unemployment of Lakeland-Winter Haven residents contributes to the high rate of obesity in the area.
As we discussed in class, there are many factors that possibly contribute to obesity. I wanted to know about the culture of Lakeland-Winter Haven in order to better understand this particular obesity problem.
Watching some local ABC Action News, I learned that in early February a group called Building a Healthier Polk was formed in response to the news that obesity rate in Polk County (which includes the MSA Lakeland-Winter Haven) is 37.6%, among the highest in Florida. The group announced a three-year initiative that includes workplace wellness (they suggest replacing donuts with fruit at meetings) and encouraging doctors to speak more honestly with patients about the problem. “One step at a time” seems to be their motto. While this is only one brief newscast, the basic level of intervention seems to indicate that residents have generally unhealthy habits. What I found particularly interesting, considering that Lakeland-Winter Haven has had a high level of obesity since at least 2010, is that this group was only recently formed. Was there a lack of information about the problem or an unwillingness to do anything about it?
On another news channel website, WTSP 10 News, I found a story about the Seatbelts Save Lives on US-92 initiative, an attempt by law enforcement to promote seatbelt wearing. The headline stated that 162 individuals were given citations for not wearing seatbelts. I don’t know what percentage this is, but the fact that it was in the headline seems to indicate it’s a lot (and it’s almost three times as many people as any other violation cited during the stops). A story like this makes me think that, perhaps, people in Lakeland-Winter Haven don’t care to follow health or safety advice. Probably many of those 162 people have heard that seatbelts save lives, but they still chose not to wear one. If that’s true, this type of mentality could contribute to the prevalence of obesity.
As I continued my research, I learned that Polk County has hundreds of lakes, thousands of acres of parks, and over 100,000 acres of pastoral land, all public and available for recreational use. The area has been called “Water Ski Capital of the World.” I would expect such vast outdoor recreational resources and warm weather to work against obesity. But perhaps this is a question of access. I wasn’t able to dig deep enough to find details about who uses these resources. Another area I wasn’t able to research well is that of access to fresh food. Lakeland and Winter Haven both have one farmers’ market, located in the downtown area and open one day a week. I did find listings for them on local news websites, not just on sites for tourists, but without further research I can’t know who lives downtown and to whom those markets actually cater.
There is still so much I don’t know about Lakeland-Winter Haven, Florida and so many questions remain. In my cursory research I wasn’t able to come up with any real answers about why this area has an obesity rate so far above the national level. After reading the articles for this week, I would like to follow up on the idea that obesity spreads through social networks and also try to determine the culture of these cities. In my research, after trying to determine the habits of it’s citizens and understand the individuals behind the numbers, I realized that it feels nearly impossible to get to know people without actually getting to know them, in person. Statistics and summaries can help locate the problem, but they might not do enough to help solve it.
Bureau of Labor Statistics: http://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LAUMT12294603?data_tool=Xgtable
ABC Action News: http://www.abcactionnews.com/dpp/news/region_polk/lakeland/polk-community-leaders-announce-initiative-to-cut-the-pounds-after-ranking-high-on-obese-list
Polk County Official Website: http://www.polk-county.net/subpage.aspx?menu_id=8&nav=res&id=120