Why Do Obesity Rates Decrease at Higher Elevations Above Sea Level in the United States?
Weight loss has always been crucial for overweight U.S. citizens. Along with a fast-moving lifestyle, various reasons like unhealthy food, lack of physical activity, stress, irregular sleep, and more contribute to weight gain in Americans. However, did you know that the altitude of the place you live in can also influence your weight? A recent study published in the International Journal of Obesity suggests that obesity decreases at higher altitudes!
According to the study, Americans residing at higher altitudes have a lower risk of gaining weight compared to those who live near the mean sea level. This is the inverse correlation between altitude and diabetes. So, let’s dig a little deeper into this to find out the correlation between altitude and weight and learn more about the relationship between the two.
More than 40% of U.S. adults are obese!
If a person has a BMI (Body Mass Index) of more than 30, they are affected by obesity. As of 2023, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that around 42% of Americans are obese. It means more than 100 million people in the United State are fat! What’s even more concerning is that about 19.7% (i.e., around 14.7 million) children in the U.S. are also facing obesity issues. These numbers also account for annual healthcare costs of more than $147 billion.
However, obesity issues are not just a problem in the U.S. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the world obesity rate has almost doubled from what it was in 1980! Not just that, the World Obesity Federation has predicted that one in seven men and one in five women will be affected by obesity by 2030.
But interestingly, the obesity rates begin to fall as you move towards the places with higher altitudes in the US.
People living at higher altitudes tend to have lower obesity rates in the U.S.
According to an NBC News report, Americans living closer to the mean sea level (i.e., places with altitudes of 1,600 feet or less) are four times more likely to get obese. This is in comparison to those living at higher altitudes (between 4,500 and 11,500 feet).
This intriguing discovery puzzled the researchers as they did not expect such significant variation in numbers. While the obesity levels vary throughout the different U.S. states, people living in the southern states are more obese than the rest of the American states. The highest obesity rates in the U.S. are found in Louisiana, Oklahoma, and West Virginia (all of which have more than 40%).
However, states with higher altitudes have a significantly lower obesity rate. Take Colorado, for example. The state’s altitude varies between 6,800 and 14,400 feet, with a much lower obesity rate of around 25.0%.
Does the obesity level really change with a change in altitude?
Researchers have observed the obesity trends in different states and found that obesity levels are indeed higher in the states with altitudes closer to the mean sea level. In contrast, the obesity levels in people living in states with higher altitudes are comparably very low.
Although the exact reason behind the inverse correlation between obesity and altitude is unclear, experts do propose an explanation. One possible reason for lower obesity rates in people living at higher altitudes can be the differences in geographic elevation. Elevation might trigger changes in appetite hormones, overall growth, and daily calorie intake. Therefore, people living in the higher altitude regions of the U.S. show better glucose regulation, leading to a reduced risk of obesity.
Furthermore, as the altitude increases, the oxygen levels begin to decrease. The experts point out that insufficient oxygen, known as “hypoxia,” can result in a significant loss of appetite and lead to weight loss.
To further understand this, researchers conducted a study in a hypobaric chamber that simulated a 40-day ascent to Mount Everest. The major takeaway from the study was that the participants experienced a drastic loss of appetite. Even after having no restrictions on food, they only consumed a daily average of 730 calories.
Moreover, the participants also had notably higher levels of leptin, the protein hormone that plays a vital role in regulating metabolism and appetite. Overall, the participants lost a total of three pounds during the study.
So, would you move to a place with a higher altitude to shed those extra pounds?
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