Food News

Wanna Know Why We're Fat? Let the Feds Draw You a Map.

The only thing worse than coming back from vacation is beating the rest of the world back to work -- especially if you're a reporter waiting for return phone calls. It's been a quiet day in the office.

But all that time spent in silence hasn't gone to waste: Today I stumbled upon the Food Environment Atlas, a resource I should have found sooner. A USDA initiative, the interactive atlas was launched by Michelle Obama way back in February. The website's officially supposed to "provide a spatial overview of a community's ability to access healthy food and its success in doing so," which is a fancy way of saying it graphically illustrates why Americans are fat.

Atlas users can access county-by-county data showing how many gallons of soft drinks are consumed per capita, the price ratio of fruit to packaged snacks and the percentage of adults meeting federal physical activity guidelines. Wondering where eaters put away the most meat per capita? Click on a box and count up the dark blue splotches around southern California, northern Georgia and San Antonio. It's fascinating stuff.

And there's plenty of interesting info for amateur researchers who don't care about the nutritional implications of food. The longstanding claim that Dallas has the most restaurants per capita is settled by the color-coded map showing number of full-service restaurants per 1,000 people: Dallas County and surrounding areas are stained light and dark pink, putting them in the bottom two-thirds of counties nationwide. Dallas County clocks in at .67 restaurants per 1,000 people, compared with Manhattan's whopping 2.43 restaurants per 1,000 people.

Texas is among the dozen or so states where residents annually spend more than $500 per capita on fast food, but Texans are stingier with their full-service restaurant dollars: The statewide figure is between $400 and $500, with Dallasites laying out $460 per capita on non-fast-food meals. By comparison, eaters in Miami-Dade County spend an average of $618 per person at restaurants each year. That's a whole bunch of extra conch.

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Hanna Raskin
Contact: Hanna Raskin