Busted Halo

In Virtue/Vice, Dr. Christine B. Whelan blogs about news, books, scientific and psychological research and her general musings about virtue and vice in our everyday lives.


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August 10th, 2010

America’s Beer Belly?


Beerbelly-flashHere’s some visual amusement — to make you laugh or cry.

Check out this map, from the good folks at Sociological Images. The red parts of the map are locations where there are more bars than grocery stores. The yellow parts of the map are where grocery stores outnumber bars.


After nearly three years at the University of Iowa, this map seems about accurate: Midwestern college towns must have bars outnumbering grocery stores by a margin of 10 to 1. Indeed, it’s fitting that this research comes out of the University of Wisconsin:

beerbelly-mapAccording to my totally unscientific online research, La Crosse, Wisconsin is home to more than 360 bars and holds the Guinness Book of World Records for the most bars per capita and most bars on one street. In Medford, Wisconsin, apparently there’s one bar for every 455 people.

And I see a little cluster around what might be my current hometown in Pittsburgh. Indeed, given how hard it is to buy alcohol outside of a bar in Pennsylvania, I’d expect to see the whole state light up red.

While you might think that places with more grocery stores than bars would be more virtuous, it’s the Midwest that seems to be the reddest area on the map, while those heathens on the East Coast seem rather teetotaling.

Are we looking at the beer belly of America

Or, are we looking at areas of food deserts — where grocery stores with fresh, healthier food aren’t available, encouraging people to eat pre-packaged and more highly caloric snacks on the run? In which case we stop laughing at Midwestern beer bellies and start crying about our national obesity epidemic once more.

The Author : Christine B. Whelan
Dr. Christine B. Whelan is an author, professor and speaker. She and her husband, Peter, and their dictator cats, Chairman Meow and Evita Purron, live in Pittsburgh. Her book "Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women" is available in stores or at the Halo Store.
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  • Steve

    For many reasons, including the one cited by Aarti, there is a strong relationship between obesity and poverty. Rich people tend to have money to buy vegetables and lean cuts of meat, gym memberships, and liposuction!

  • Aarti Rego-Pereira

    Unhealthy food usually costs a lot less than healthy food. (McDonalds, Wendy’s, Burger King have burgers that cost just $1). Additionally, the big hoardings outside fastfood places that advertize their low cost food items can easily attract an impulsive buyer. Unhealthy food is also easily available as compared to healthy foods. Possibly, these are the reasons why a person could be poor and yet, overweight.

  • Nick Swanson

    I have a question for all Catholic food lovers. Today I walked by a homeless man who obviously wasn’t faking it but was very overweight. Curious, I visited the local soup kitchen and noticed the pattern continued. How can you be poor but overweight?

  • Nick Swanson

    Who goes to the supermarket to meet women and have a good time?

  • Matt

    A grocery store typically serves a much larger population than a bar. One supermarket can handle a community of almost unlimited size, if the shelves are kept stocked…a second and third and fourth are mostly for competition and added convenience.

    Whereas at a bar, once the number of patrons exceeds a pretty small quantity, it’s too busy, and quality of service degrades rapidly.

    In fact, unless their definition of “grocery store” is extremely generous (as in, everything from Costco to 7-11) and their definition of “bar” extremely restrictive (as in “serves only alcohol, and maybe peanuts”), I’d wonder why there’s so _little_ red on the map.

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