Southern states have earned the unfortunate reputation of being home to some of the highest obesity rates in the United States thanks to poor diets made up of mainly fried foods and a lack of physical activity. A study featured in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Preventing Chronic Disease has revealed that seniors in the South are less likely to report a healthier quality of life compared to older residents of the Northeast and Midwest. Could seniors who retire to the South also be retiring any health habits they practiced or are unhealthy offenders home grown?

Researchers from the CDC examined data from Americans 65 and older who participated in the National Health Interview Survey between 1997 and 2010. Results from the survey were combined with the Health and Activities Limitation Index (HALex) to compare the health-related quality of life (HRQOL) among seniors living in the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia (D.C.). Pooled data was also compared among four U.S. regions: the South, West, Midwest, and Northeast. The research team also adjusted for socio-demographic factors and health-related behaviors such as smoking and alcohol consumption.

Seniors in Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, and West Virginia reported the lowest HALex scores, while older residents of Arizona, Delaware, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Vermont reported the highest scores across all 50 U.S. states and D.C. Among the four regions of the U.S., older residents of the Northeast and Midwest were more likely to report higher HALex scores compared to residents of the South. The researchers also pointed out the significance of HRGOL in predicting morbidity and mortality, and they hope their findings will be taken into account by policy makers looking to improve the health of older Americans.

According to the CDC, Americans living in southern states like Mississippi are less likely to be physically active compared to people living in the West, Northeast, and Midwest. Among residents of Mississippi, one of the states that reported the lowest HALex scores, 34 percent of adults over the age of 18 and 18.3 percent of adolescents between grades nine and 12 are considered obese. To help combat the state’s historically high obesity rates, officials have started to revise training and regulations regarding physical activity and nutritional policies in child care facilities. The Mississippi State Department of Health is also working to make healthier snacks more available at state-run facilities.

Source: Tannenbaum S, Olano H, Kachan D, et al. Geographical Variation in Health-Related Quality of Life Among Older US Adults, 1997–2010. Preventing Chronic Disease. 2014.