Perhaps even more delicious than Portland’s most notoriously fattening snack—the Memphis Mafia fritter—is the fact that it’s named for this year’s Fattest City. Nearly three-quarters (71.1%) of River City’s adult population is either overweight or obese, and it’s getting flabbier every year.
Mayor A.C. Wharton has said that, in Memphis, “deep-frying is an art form and barbecuing pork is almost a religious experience.” Yes, Southern-fried-food culture definitely plays a role, but what about what Memphians aren’t eating? Only 56% regularly consume veggies. And, ironically, it’s one of America’s hungriest cities, with more than a quarter of the population struggling to get enough to eat. Poverty and widespread “food deserts”—areas where fresh fruit, vegetables, and whole foods are almost impossible to come by—only worsen the problem.
Add to that poor walkability, smoggy air caused by pollution-spewing power plants, and steamy, subtropical summers that push Memphians indoors and you’re looking at a public health crisis.
“The situation here is truly nuanced,” says Hailey Thomas, executive editor of Memphis Health + Fitness Magazine. “But there are a lot of really exciting initiatives at play in our community.”
Three years ago, for instance, Mayor Wharton—a health and fitness buff who’s known to crank out pushups in a suit and tie—launched several efforts aimed at slimming down the population, including opening more farmer’s markets and adding 55 miles of new bike lanes and 25 SAFE (Shared Areas for Fitness and Exercise) zones.
The most visible changes are infrastructure improvements—a fast-growing bike network and the Harahan Bridge Project, which will turn the mile-long span into a bike and pedestrian path over the Mississippi, which could spell a brighter, fitter future for Memphis.
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