The city of Binghamton is making headlines for the size of its population’s waistlines.
Binghamton’s metropolitan area had the second-highest obesity rate of any city in the United States in 2011, according to findings from the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index released Monday. It was also ranked 180 out of 190 cities nationwide in overall health.
The study measured obesity using body mass index — a measurement of body fat using height and weight — calculated through a phone survey where respondents were asked to provide their height and weight.
The Center for Disease Control defines obesity as having a BMI of 30 or higher.
Of the 251,725 people who live in the Binghamton metropolitan area, 37.6 percent were found to be obese in the Gallup-Healthways study.
McAllen, Texas weighed in at No. 1 in the U.S. for obesity rates at 38.8 percent. Boulder, Colo., at the opposite end of the spectrum, was slim by comparison with only a 14.4 percent rate.
The national obesity mark dipped slightly last year, according to the annual survey, from 26.6 percent in 2010 to 26.1 percent in 2011.
Claudia Edwards, director of Broome County’s Department of Health, told Pipe Dream she believes that Binghamton’s obesity rate is more in line with the national average than the Gallup-Healthways Index would suggest.
She pointed to the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, data collected by the CDC, which indicates that the area’s obesity rate is actually 10 points lower than indicated by the new survey.
The BRFSS surveyed 1,600 people in Broome County by phone interviews and some in-person weight-measuring sessions. The 2011 Gallup-Healthways Index surveyed 409 people in both Broome and Tioga counties, without the in-person data collection.
“The Gallup Poll does the same thing, but they didn’t validate it with any hard data,” Edwards said.
The BRFSS indicates that the county’s obesity rate declined from around 27 percent in 2008 to less than 25 percent in 2010.
Edwards said the county still has plenty of room for improvement.
“We’re on average with the rest of the nation, but we’ve got a lot of work to do, because the rest of the nation isn’t very healthy,” Edwards said.
She said the county hopes to improve the health of the area by creating biking and walking paths in Binghamton, providing more opportunities for the purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables and improving lunch menus and activity schedules at local schools.
Kathy McGregor, an adjunct professor in Binghamton University’s health and wellness department, said she was concerned about obesity as a health problem, but also expressed doubts about the validity of Binghamton’s No. 2 obesity ranking.
“While the ranking is shocking to the area, the method of data gathering remains suspect,” McGregor wrote in an email to Pipe Dream.
She said the methodology of the survey — using phone surveys to find BMI — was wrong-headed. She was also skeptical of using BMI as an indicator of obesity.
“For example: a person could weigh more because they have a lot of muscle tissue versus a person who weighs the same amount but has a lot of fat tissue,” McGregor wrote in the email.
Despite her doubts about the survey’s validity, McGregor emphasized that a lack of knowledge about nutrition and exercise, along with the overuse of technology, contribute to making a more obese population.
“Technology is taking activity out of lives today, bringing added stress and emotional addiction,” McGregor wrote. “The cell phone has a wealth of information available in seconds which is neither used nor applied regularly. If people exercised as much as they were on the cell phone and ate only what Mother Nature provided, obesity would not be the issue it is today.”