This probably won’t shock anyone out there, but Americans aren’t the healthiest group of people. While some of us take pleasure in being health-conscious and actively eat healthy and exercise daily, there are quite a bit of us who don’t have the time, energy, or income to live that kind of lifestyle.
Perhaps that’s why we have an obesity rate nearing 40% in the United States.
A Gallup poll spent the better part of two years looking into obesity rates, healthy eating habits, and access to fresh foods in 189 communities throughout the United States. We’ve gone through and selected the 10 worst offenders from the study and compiled them in an easy to read list.
Here are the 10 American cities with the worst diets…
10. Tulsa, Oklahoma
We will start things off with Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the different communities that make up the greater Tulsa metropolitan area. With a population of 991,561 scattered throughout the statistical area, Tulsa cracked the top 10 in terms of cities with the worst dieting habits.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise when you look at the local cuisine in Tulsa. With an abundance of BBQ, southern “homestyle” food, steakhouses, and hot dogs, there’s not a lot of room for people to follow health conscious lifestyles.
In addition to the local fare, there is an alarming number of fast food restaurants in the greater Tulsa area. According to the Gallup report, there are nearly 74 fast food restaurants for every 100,000 people, so if you take the population size into consideration, that means there are roughly 600 fast food joints.
What’s troubling about this data is that 45% of Tulsa County, which is home to 646,266 residents of the metropolitan area, live in low access areas where there a third of the population lives farther than one mile from a grocery store in an urban areas and 10 miles in rural areas. In addition to living in low access areas, 19% of Tulsa County also lives in food deserts – low income areas with little to no access to fresh food.
With low access to grocery stores and an abundance of fast food restaurants, it’s not hard to understand that 42.8% of adults say they do not eat healthy while 16.1% say they are currently in poor to fair health. Oh, and 31.2% of adults are classified as being obese.
9. Little Rock, Arkansas
Next on the list we have the city of Little Rock, Arkansas, and the surrounding communities that make up a metropolitan area of around 738,000 residents.
Little Rock finds itself on the list mostly due to its adult obesity rate (34.4%), which can be a direct result of its residents less than ideal eating habits. There are 76 fast food restaurants per 100,000 residents, and then the restaurants that operate outside of the drive-thru burger model tend to focus on more of the southern comfort foods that are oh so popular in the southern communities of the United States.
But that’s entirely the residents’ fault. Even though 19% of adults say they are in poor to fair health and 42.9% say they don’t stick to healthy diets, it’s more of a matter of circumstance rather than a deliberate action. The state of Arkansas has a major issue with food insecurity, ranking 49 out of 50 states in a 2017 study by Feeding America looking at access to healthy food. In data collected in 2015, Arkansas has a rate of 18.4%, which was 5 points higher than the national average of 13.4%.
8. Topeka, Kansas
Here we have the first of two Kansas entries on our list of cities with the worst diets. Like the previous two entries, Topeka, Kansas, has a major issue with access to food, which for an area of 233,149 residents, that can be a major problem.
The adult obesity rate is 35.7%, 43% of adults say they don’t eat healthy on a regular basis, and 14.4% say they are in poor or fair health. This is mostly like caused by the lack of fresh food in central parties of the city as well the over saturation of fast food restaurants to the tune of 78 per 100,000 residents.
One of the last grocery stores in central Topeka closed its doors in 2016, leaving a large portion of the population without easy access to fresh foods. Instead residents in those food deserts have to settle for fast food, and the groceries they can purchase come from gas stations and dollar stores, which are not known to offer the healthiest of options.
7. Wichita, Kansas
We’ll stay in Kansas for a little bit longer on this road trip through the cities with the worst diets in the country. Our next stop is Wichita, which is home to 644,888 people (the metro area).
Wichita has a lower obesity rate than Topeka (33.9% compared to 35.7%), but the percentage of adults with non-healthy eating habits and adults living in poor to fair health are virtually identical in the two metropolitan areas.
Wichita has an alarming number of fast food establishments – 85.5 per 100,000 residents – and quite a few food deserts. The city, however, is trying to address the food desert issue with public transit pilot programs offering rides to grocery stores, mobile farmers markets, and discount grocery stores aiming to fill in the gaps.
So there is still hope for Wichita.
6. Lexington, Kentucky
We’ll leave Kansas and make our way east to Lexington, Kentucky. Mostly known for being the home turf of the University of Kentucky Wildcats, this southern city has more than earned its spot on the list of unhealthy cities.
Maybe it’s all of the football, baseball, and basketball games the 512,650 residents attend each year that’s causing 43.1% of the adult population to disclose that they don’t follow healthy diets. When they’re not eating at sporting events, the residents of Lexington probably spend their time at any of the large variety of fast food restaurants that pepper the city and surrounding communities. There are 85.2 fast food establishments for every 100,000 people in the area, so they have plenty of options.
Perhaps that’s why the obesity rate is at a cool 30% for adults and why 18.2% say their health ranges from poor to fair.
5. Clarksville, Tennessee
We’ll take the “last train” to Clarksville, Tennessee, where the 285,602 of the city’s residents (and surrounding communities) don’t have the best of eating habits. But hey, at least they’re being honest.
According to the Gallup poll, 43.3% of adults in the area admitted that they don’t always follow the healthiest of diets, which could help explain the 33.4% adult obesity rate, as well as the 20.3% who say they live in poor to fair health.
According to a 2018 study into food health across the country, Montgomery County, Tennessee, which is home to Clarksville, ranked in the bottom quarter of all counties in the United States in terms of food environment. With multiple food deserts in the area and 16.5% of the population living below the poverty line, it’s no surprise that people are so unhealthy.
People have to drive at least a mile to buy fresh foods in some parts of Clarksville, which also happen to be the areas where people live so far below what’s considered impoverished, so they may not have the means to go buy the groceries and have to settle for gas station food or fast food (64.1 fast food restaurants per 100,000 people).
For people like that, healthy diets are simply not an option.
4. Hickory, North Carolina
The Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton, North Carolina metropolitan area is one of the more obscure cities to make the list, but that doesn’t mean that the dietary habits of its residents are anything to overlook.
In the Gallup poll, 43.6% of adults in the area with a population of 366,534 admitted that they don’t eat healthy. That’s more than 3 points above the national average, which in itself is something frightening. The obesity rate sits at 31.8% with 17.5% of adults claiming to be in a state of health ranging from poor to fair.
3. Cincinnati, Ohio
If you start any Google search with “Why does Cincinnati have the worst…” you’ll find results ranging from drivers to pollution to diets, and just about everything else. But the sake of this argument, we’ll just focus on the diet aspect.
Cincinnati, home to the Reds, Bengals, and Skyline Chili, ranks in the bottom third of cities with questionable dietary choices, which explains the 43.7% of the adult population who say they don’t eat healthy meals on the regular.
With a metropolitan population of 2,180,746, which includes the city itself along with communities in both Ohio and neighboring Kentucky, Cincinnati is far from healthy. With obesity rates around 32% and health standards pretty low, it’s safe to say that all of that Skyline Chili isn’t helping anyone’s waistline.
2. Memphis, Tennessee
Memphis, Tennessee is known for a lot of things: music, culture, and oh yeah, it’s food. Lots and lots of great food. From BBQ to fried chicken and everything in between, Memphis is home to some of the world’s greatest restaurants (both small shacks and upscale fine dining establishments).
This might explain why 44% of adults recently admitted that they don’t pay all that much attention to what they put in their bodies. With an adult obesity rate just about 35% and 19% of adults saying they are in poor to fair health, the food is probably the problem.
But the food can’t be the only problem. Memphis is home to some of the poorest neighborhoods in the state of Tennessee and the United States as a whole, so it should come as no surprise that fresh food availability is scattered at best in one of the country’s most iconic cities.
Memphis has a poverty rate of 24.6%, with a childhood poverty rate of 39%, so the means of securing high quality and healthy foods aren’t the easiest to come by.
1. Lubbock, Texas
Finally, we have our worst offender on the list. And no, it’s not Houston, but close. The city of Lubbock Texas, home of Texas Tech University has the dishonor of being the city with the worst diet in all of the United States.
In a metropolitan area of 318,011 residents, 46.2% of adults don’t have healthy diets and 18% live in a state of health that is listed at “fair” at best. With high obesity rates (32.2% in adults) and dozens of fast food restaurants (85.2 per 100,000 people), it’s no surprise Lubbock is at the top of the list.
Maybe it’s time to put down those large steaks, the tons of smoked meats, and all of that processed food and instead eat some veggies for a change.