Special Report

Cities With the Most Dangerous Diets

11. Baton Rouge, La.
> Poverty rate: 18.7% (28th highest)
> Pct. households on food stamps within past 12 months: 15.9% (44th highest)
> Pct. obese: 29.0% (50th highest)
> Pct. unable to afford fruits/veggies: 8.3% (tied, 74th highest)

Baton Rouge residents had among the least healthy diets in America. Like other areas where people eat very poorly, poverty likely hampers most residents’ ability to access high-quality food. Nearly 19% of area residents lived below the poverty line in 2012, versus a national poverty rate of 15.9%. Last year, just 58.6% of survey respondents told Gallup they ate healthy all of the previous day, among the lowest percentages of any metro area reviewed. Households in Baton Rouge were also more likely than most Americans to rely on food stamps in 2012.

10. Corpus Christi, Texas
> Poverty rate: 16.2% (74th highest)
> Pct. households on food stamps: 15.4% (52nd highest)
> Pct. obese: 32.6% (12th highest)
> Pct. unable to afford fruits/veggies: 8.9 % (tied, 45th highest)

More than 32% of Corpus Christi area residents were obese last year. Seventeen percent of residents surveyed had been diagnosed with diabetes last year, one of the highest rates in the nation and well above the national rate of 11.1%. Further, 34.4% noted they had health issues preventing them from participating in their usual activities. These poor health outcomes were likely due in part to the high number of urban and rural neighborhoods without ready access to nutritious, healthy food. Twenty-three communities in the metro area were classified as food deserts and more than 30% of the population had low access to a grocery store in 2010. The following year, there were only seven grocery stores in Corpus Christi for every 100,000 residents, the second lowest rate on our list. According to Feeding America’s 2013 “Mapping the Meal Gap” report, nearly 13% of children in Corpus Christi lived in food insecure households, defined as households unable to provide adequately nutritious food.

9. McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas
> Poverty rate: 34.5% (the highest)
> Pct. households on food stamps: 32.7% (the highest)
> Pct. obese: 38.3% (2nd highest)
> Pct. unable to afford fruits/veggies: 8.3% (tied, 74th highest)

Nearly 35% of residents in the McAllen area lived below the poverty line in 2012, more than double the national rate and more than any other metro area reviewed. Like a majority of metro areas with the worst diets, fast-food restaurants were far more numerous than grocery stores. Even if healthy food were available in the region, residents were often unable to afford it. Just 70.6% of residents said they had enough money to buy food at all times in the 12 months prior to Gallup’s 2013 survey, less than every area reviewed except for Columbus, Ga. Nearly a third of households relied on food stamps in 2012, the highest percentage nationwide. Like many areas in Texas, McAllen-area residents also suffer from obesity. Nearly 40% of residents in the McAllen area were classified as clinically obese by Gallup last year, the second-highest obesity rate in the nation.

8. Beaumont-Port Arthur, Texas
> Poverty rate: 19.1% (26th highest)
> Pct. households on food stamps: 17.0% (29th highest)
> Pct. obese: 31.2% (21st highest)
> Pct. unable to afford fruits/veggies: 10.4% (20th highest)

While income and physical proximity to healthy food are perhaps the most important contributors to food security and healthy diets, education also plays a major role. Just 17.1% of Beaumont area residents had completed at least a bachelor’s degree in 2012, far less than the national rate of nearly 30%. Poor eating habits likely led to higher proportions of residents suffering from poor health outcomes. Nearly 16% were diagnosed with diabetes last year, for example, among the highest rates in the nation. A higher incidence of poor health outcomes like diabetes associated with unhealthy behaviors and dietary habits. More than 31% of residents were clinically obese last year, among the higher rates.