Obesity in Massachusetts

Visualizing obesity related factors and federal aid programs

Obesity is a severe public health issue in the US, where currently, one in three U.S. adults is obese. It is known to cause heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. Through this project we want to highlight the condition of obesity in Massachusetts, socio-economic data of the state, some of the key obesity related factors and data of federal programs. Our goal is to help obesity policy and program decision makers in planning and allocating federal budgets to various food assistance programs.

Through this project we want to highlight some of the key factors that are known to cause obesity, show prevalence of obesity in population along with details of obesity programs available for the states - which would help the local government in decision making to plan programs to fight obesity and allocate budgets to these programs.

Representation of Child Obesity in Massachusetts, 2014

According to the most recent US obesity data, rates of obesity now exceed 35% in three states, 22 states have rates above 30% and every state is above 20%. Massachusetts has the fourth lowest adult obesity rate and there has been a decline in child obesity (2-4 years olds) in low income families. A map of Massachusetts showing child obesity in all counties based on USDA data released on February 2014.

Socio-Economic Characteristics

The three visualizations below show the socio-economic characteristics (race, age and income) by county in Massachusetts and each county can be compared to average, most obese or least obese county. The counties with higher obesity rate have a relatively higher percent of hispanic and black population while lower obesity rate counties have a relatively higher white percent. Also higher obesity rates tend to have an above average child poverty rate and lower median household income with an exception of Nantucket (most obese county).

Obesity By Race

Obesity By Age

Income By County

Comparsion with State

Factors related to obesity

Next we visualize various factors related to obesity: access and proximity to grocery stores, availability of grocery stores convenience stores and different types of restaurants, food insecurity and percent of students eligible for food assistance programs. Many of the more obese states have lower percent of students eligible for free lunch while the case is opposite for some of the lower obese counties. Suffolk is an exception with high child obesity rate and where the county has a high percent of student eligible for free lunch or reduced priced food. Also many of the obese counties have a lower percent of local vegetable farms.

Federal Aid Food Programs

At last we visualize the various federal assistance food programs: percent of participants in such programs (WIC, SNAP, summer food service programs and national free lunch programs, etc), SNAP benefits per capita and SNAP redemptions. We see that in most of the programs the percent of participants is equal across all counties in spite of a very highly disproportionate child poverty rate and student's eligibility percentage within the counties.


We see that all counties have equal percent of participants whereas there is a highly disproportionate poverty rate among the counties. We need to investigate why counties with larger percent of students eligible for food assistance programs cannot attract more participants. Unfortunately some of these also have higher obesity rates. For example - Suffolk is the fourth highest obese county, has a high percent of eligible students for food programs as well as high hispanic and black population. On the other hand, the most obese county is Nantucket - the island south of Cape Code is also the least populous county with higher income rates and an above state average hispanic population. The island has low accessibility to grocery stores, restaurants and no local farms. The participants in food programs is also least in Nantucket which can be explained by the low poverty rates. Because of the uniqueness of Nantucket, we need a customized plan to implement the programs to help fight obesity.

Additonal resources

Process book


Obesity Video