Knowledge is good


Faber College Dean Vernon Wormer had it right: Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life.* According to the recently released UnitedHealth Foundation’s America’s Health Rankings report, Minnesota is increasingly fat, drunk and stupid.

We’re less healthy and more drunk than in years past, the report says. Granted, we’re No. 2 in overall health rankings, losing out only to Vermont. Last year, Minnesota was No. 1. This year we’re not.

Obesity is skyrocketing here. I don’t care about the recent finding suggesting that being a touch heavy is a better long-term health option. That becomes one more “supersize me” excuse. Really, when was the last time a waiter asked “Would you like twice as many lettuce greens and half the dressing for only a dollar more?”

In 1990, Minnesota’s obesity rate was 10.2 percent of our population. This year it’s 24.7 percent. We’re big and getting bigger.

We know this. It might take a rigorous, statistically significant report assembled by social science wizards to confront our behavior but, fundamentally, we know that we’re getting fatter. Still not convinced? Conduct your own anecdotal research. Eyeball any mall’s food court crowd. Is one of every four people obese?


It gets worse. Minnesotans binge-drink more than those in 40 other states. Roughly one of every six Minnesota men consumes five or more drinks in a single sitting. Similar percentages of women down four or more at a time.

We binge-drink only slightly more today than in the past, meaning we have a complex and deeply-held relationship with alcohol. Don’t give me the “red wine is heart healthy” argument, either. Quaffing four or five beers and a shot or two doesn’t do anyone any favors.

I’m not going to suggest causal relationships, but I believe that a stagnating economy won’t trim alcohol abuse.

Finally, we’re growing stupider. This is a subjective conclusion. The UnitedHealth Foundation report notes that Minnesota high school graduation rates are declining, but that doesn’t necessarily make us stupider in the short run. Over time, though, it does.

Families with lower educational achievement are far more likely to replicate that pattern, effectively creating a permanent undereducated, low-income class. High school drop-outs have a dramatically lower shot at social mobility. While we relish self-made success stories, statistically it just doesn’t happen without a high school diploma.

Consequently, more evidence that we’re growing stupider is found in our tacit acceptance of these problems. Each – obesity, binge drinking, undereducation — carries extraordinarily high lifetime costs to individuals and to Minnesota writ large.

Here’s the kicker: We can do something about it. If we do, if we embrace substantive policy changes for educational investments, affordable health care, better transportation and a growing economy, at least we refute the stupidity charge.

I’m not going to offer excuses. We’re fatter, drunker and more stupid by choice. But sensible diets, responsible drinking and progressive public policy choices will improve lives.

Fat, drunk and stupid may be a reasonable reaction to the conservative policy agenda, but it’s killing us, literally and figuratively, in the long run. Let’s not wait for next year’s America’s Health Rankings to change. Start now.