Obesity across America

In late June, the American Medical Association (AMA) ruled that obesity was a proper "disease."

Obesity across America

The arguments pro and con--predictable, static arguments--that followed impelled designer and travel Lih Chen to visualize the obesity issue, turn it into something more dynamic.

Obesity across America

Using information from the CDC and the US Census Bureau, Chen made pie charts for each state.

Obesity across America

The charts are divided into three categories: "obese" in maroon, "overweight" in orange, and "normal" in grey.

Obesity across America

A bar chart across the bottom of the map breaks down the same information.

Obesity across America

The size of the pies reflect the population numbers of each state. It’s a flaw in the design, not the data, that Texas’s and New York’s statistics are more legible than those of, say, Arkansas or Nebraska.

Obesity across America

Interestingly, obesity rates are somewhat consistent across state lines.

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Infographic: Just How Fat Is The U.S.? Here's A State-By-State Breakdown

This summer, the AMA officially labeled obesity a "disease." Here’s how it’s spread, gaining weight across the country.

This summer, the American Medical Association moved to add obesity to the national register of diseases. The decision, which ignored the protests of a special committee charged with studying the issue, would ostensibly lead to greater public education and providing treatment for the 90 million Americans—78 million adults and 12 million children—now considered obese.

A torrent of media coverage and blog battles yielded all manner of pro and con arguments. The AMA’s new agenda set off responses that generally tread familiar territory, bouncing around "lifestyle choices" and appearance discrimination and nanny state objectors.

Tired of the expected static responses, designer Lih Chen decided to turn obesity into pies, representing the issue in a more interactive way.

Using information from the CDC and the U.S. Census Bureau, Chen charted the rise—and rise—of obesity levels across the country in the last decade and a half. The figures represent the general BMI of each state split into three categories: "obese" (maroon in the graphic), "overweight" (orange), and "normal" (greyish blue).

Interestingly, obesity rates don’t vary as much as one might expect from state to state. Though note Chen’s pies have a baked-in design frustration: The size of each chart corresponds to population figures, so where New York’s and California’s statistics are immediately clear, those of North Dakota or Vermont are too puny to see. Levels are highest in the South and Southwest, where in Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma the BMI breakdown seems evenly split. Figures shift slightly in the Midwest, while in New England the proportions are most skewed to "overweight" cases. Among the "healthiest" states are Maine, Colorado, Utah, and Massachusetts.

Chen, a member of the traveler and hostel comparison forum PackerShack, has made infographics for the site before. The obesity chart may not have the most direct connection with traveling, but Chen addresses that in a blog entry. He writes about trips to Thailand, where he found Western tourists choosing Whoppers over the exquisite—and worlds less fattening—fresh, local food.

Sure, there are flaws in Chen’s graphics, starting with those pie charts so small they’re difficult or impossible to read. And the use of BMI as the default metric for measuring weight and health is reductionist, to say the least. But that part, of course, is not the designer’s fault; it’s indicative of the highly problematic ways obesity is viewed by policy makers and the public. Time will tell if the AMA’s ruling will make headway into changing that.

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  • Nick Sparagis

    Practically nobody eats healthy on vacation.  It's what you do the 95% of the time.  

    I bet you find a correlation between people who eat out at restaurants/fast food and people that eat dinner at home.