Why are Southerners less healthy?

The South has long been the Land of Unhealthful Habits, a region with states that often lead the nation in some of the least desirable categories, such as obesity and smoking.

But we rarely get to see this presented as starkly as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put it Thursday. According to my colleague  Niraj Chokshi at GovBeat, who posted on a new CDC report, the Southeastern states "are collectively home to the highest number of preventable deaths for each of the five leading causes" of mortality.

Specifically, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee are national leaders in preventable deaths from heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, cerebrovascular disease (strokes) and unintentional injuries (such as car and motorcycle accidents).

The depressing post is here. Don't miss the graphic at the end for an unmistakeable visual representation.

As for why Southerners are less healthy than people in many other parts of the U.S., well, that is a complex question. Time Magazine tackled it a few years ago, observing that Southerners are poorer than residents in the rest of the U.S., do have a certain fondness for fried food, (even if that is exaggerated), exercise less and drive more.

A report issued by the Kaiser Family Foundation just a week ago found that Southerners are less likely to have health insurance or access to the health care they need. A Gallup poll issued a few years back showed that residents of the region visit the dentist less often, probably because they are poorer.

Despite these facts, many Southern states did not choose to expand Medicaid health coverage for the poor as part of the Affordable Care Act, which, that same Kaiser report says, could give insurance to millions more people.

Lenny Bernstein writes the To Your Health blog. He started as an editor on the Post’s National Desk in 2000 and has worked in Metro and Sports.
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Lenny Bernstein · May 1