I just could not resist writing about this when I stumbled upon the interesting factoid about beer and obesity: States with the highest number of craft beers per 100,000 people also have lower obesity rates (for those of you statistically inclined, the correlation rate is -0.54). This observation comes from The Atlantic Cities website, which did a report on the increase of craft beer breweries in the United States (there are more craft breweries now than any time since 1887). What is even more interesting was the quick set of correlations they performed, including the one I just mentioned above.
Let’s work through this relationship. Below are the maps showing US Obesity rates in 2010 (from my previous post) and the map put together by The Atlantic Cities showing the number of craft breweries per 100,000 people, for each state.
First thing to note here, is that many of the the red states on the left (indicating states with adult obesity rates greater than 30%) overlap with the light purple states on the right (indicating that there is, on average, less than 1 craft brewery in the state for every 100,000 people). I said mostly overlap, as there a few red states (like Michigan) that are a medium-purple too, which tells us that some heavily obese states average between 2-3 craft breweries per 100,000 people. Second, notice that dark purple states on the right (indicating, on average 3 or more craft breweries per 100,000 people) are also yellow states on the left (indicating adult obesity rates between 20-25%): Vermont, Montana, and Oregon. So now I can add drinking my loveable “Old Chub” Scottish Ale as a good substitute for running home from work once a week!
Of course, I’m having fun – because obviously, drinking beer (even yummy craft brews) does not make you thin. As we all know (and the The Atlantic Cities website is quick to point out) correlation only shows how well two things are related – not that one causes the other. The question now is, are there any obvious characteristics that make Vermont, Montana, and Oregon polar opposites of places like Texas, Louisiana, Kentucky, and West Virginia, and could possibly be related to both obesity and craft breweries?
I had two, and neither seem all that probable: The first is mostly related to Montana, Oregon, and Vermont. All three are what we could call ‘outdoorsy’ states, and are known for adventure tourism (like skiing, hiking, camping, etc). So that might explain the low obesity rates – high exercise and activity. How does this relate to craft breweries? My best guess is, with vacationing and adventure goes drinking and eating good food, and craft breweries would fair well in these states. As far as I know, few people plan adventure-related vacations to places like Mississippi, West Virginia, or Texas (does anyone really plan a vacation to Texas?).
The second is better education, particularly in agriculture and sciences. There is already a fairly decent correlation with overall education and decreases in obesity, and The Atlantic Cities website also showed a weak, positive correlation with craft brewery and adults with college degrees (0.32). Ask any brewer, and he or she will tell you that making beer (or wine for that matter) is highly scientific, and requires lots of chemistry and math. You need a population that is willing and able to use science everyday as part of its job. The central US states do not fair well in reports on science and engineering education studies (Mississippi ranked last in all the states on the Science and Engineering Readiness Index of high school students). So perhaps the underlying cause between craft brewery and obesity is better educational attainment.
As I said, neither are that great at explaining the correlation; if anyone has better ideas, fire away!
Finally, here are two more interesting correlations with craft breweries: Craft brewing is less likely in conservative states, with a modest negative correlation (-0.30) to 2008 John McCain votes (there was no statistically-significant association to Barack Obama votes); And craft brewing is more closely associated with higher levels of happiness and well-being (0.47).