Coos County is chubby -- not huge, but a little fatter than the rest of Oregon.
Though the statistics are not as startling as the number of smokers or excessive drinkers here, Coos County has a relatively high incidence of obesity. The prevalence of obese people partly contributes to the county's poor health ranking.
The County Health Rankings, a project of the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, ranked Coos as one of the least healthy in the state again this year.
The question: Why so ill?
When it comes to obesity, this county suffers from the same basic problem facing the rest of the nation: sugar.
'We've taken the fiber out of our diets and loaded up on sugars and carbs," said Linda Hicks, patient and community education coordinator for Bay Area Hospital.
One possible explanation for Coos County's heft is low income. People here have less money to buy healthy foods and less education teaching them how to be healthy. Fast food and pre-packaged food promote weight gain.
So do sugar and carbs. The saliva in our mouths turns white flour into sugar before it even reaches our stomachs. Fruit juice has almost as much sugar as soft drinks, even if it has no sugar added.
'Drinking an eight-ounce glass of orange juice is the equivalent of eating four oranges," Hicks said.
Soft drinks might be the worst.
When you drink a soda, your blood sugar spikes. The body seeks water to clean it out. If the thirsty person turns to more soda, instead of water, the body becomes perpetually sugar-saturated.
'There is a higher correlation between soft drink consumption and obesity than any other single factor," Hicks said.
Hicks said many of these unhealthy choices come from ignorance. Many people just don't know the effects of soda or white flour.
Stress: The hidden culprit
You're already running late when you hit that last red light.
The car screeches to a halt. This mini-emergency isn't life-threatening, but your body can't tell the difference.
'Your liver thinks: 'Ah! A bear!'" Hicks said.
Whenever your body feels stress, it prepares for the worst. Your blood thickens so you won't bleed out when the bear mauls you.
Your immune system becomes 'hyper vigilant" to protect against disease and infection from any gaping wounds. Your liver dumps sugar into your system to power fighting or fleeing.
But people in our society are stressed by things such as traffic lights and deadlines and angry bosses, not wild ravenous bears. Furthermore, we are under some kind of stress almost constantly, Hicks said.
Over time this perpetual blood thickening, immune system hypervigilance and sugar dumping wear on the body. Some people end up with high blood pressure, others develop strong allergies or auto-immune diseases, and others develop diabetes.
Poverty creates intense stress, Hicks said. Poor adults, who already may choose lower-quality, processed food to save money, are almost continuously worried about finding or keeping work. Many of the jobs available here do not provide a family wage, which means workers are either underemployed or working multiple jobs.
'Our culture is all about productivity," Hicks said.
'Even if you've lost the love of your life, you're expected to be back to work in a few weeks."
Reporter Jessie Higgins can be reached at 541-269-1222 ext. 240 or firstname.lastname@example.org.