How Gun violence is helping drive diabetes and other chronic diseases in the southern American Nations regions

In a new study in the American Journal of Medicine, Nationhood Lab’s director and his collaborators find evidence linking firearm fatalities and physical inactivity in the American Nations regions, most especially in the Dixie bloc, El Norte, and First Nation

John Liberty/Motivf for Nationhood Lab

By Colin Woodard

Gun violence may be partly responsible for the disturbingly high rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and premature mortality in the southern regions of the United States, according to a new academic study.

Here at Nationhood Lab, we previously showed massive regional differences in deadly gun violence rates and average life expectancy, with U.S. southern regions displaying metrics comparable to those in developing countries, others those similar to Canada and some western European counties. Both were subjects of longform Politico articles that received national attention. All of this work used my American Nations model of North American regional cultures, which is described in brief here and in detail in the book of the same name.

Over the past ten months we’ve also been engaged in an academic research collaborative examining regional differences in various health indices and how they might be mitigated. In the process we’ve shown the same regions also have higher rates of physical inactivity, diabetes, obesity, disabilities, sleep disturbances, and other health problems. Obesity prevalence, for instance, is half again greater in Greater Appalachia, Deep South, New France and First Nation than in New Netherland, Left Coast or Greater Polynesia.

Our new study, published in the American Journal of Medicine, examines the link between gun violence and physical inactivity, which is itself closely correlated with obesity, diabetes, and lowered lifespan. We found counties with high rates of self-reported physical inactivity had significantly higher firearm fatality rates, and the relationship was consistent when just looking at white or Black or Hispanic victims. The study, led by Dr. Thomas E. Kottke of the Minneapolis-based HealthPartners Institute, also found significant correlations between these two phenomenon across the American Nations, but with substantially stronger results in the southern group (and First Nation.)

“If a person does not live in what they perceive to be a safe environment, they will be less likely to be physically active,” Kottke wrote in the study. “Given this situation, public health campaigns should consider the safety of a community when crafting public health messaging.”

The paper – with co-authors Nicolas Pronk of HealthPartners Institute, the University of Illinois-Chicago’s Ross Arena, and myself – found a Pearson bivariate correlation of 0.42 in an American Nations group of regions consisting of Greater Appalachia, Deep South, El Norte, New France and First Nation and 0.18 in a group made up of the remaining regions. Kottke advised public health and medical professionals to consider taking regional cultural characteristics into account when contemplating interventions.

“Solutions and messaging that will resonate with regional US cultural beliefs and values systems will have a higher likelihood for success compared with models that consider all individuals across the United States to have the same belief system and viewpoints,” he concluded.

A previous paper suggested churches might play a role in addressing the physical inactivity crisis and, thus, the diseases it’s precipitating, as they are clustered in hot spot areas and may have the trust, infrastructure, and motivation to help their members. Similarly, the new study suggests that “in neighborhoods where higher levels of gun violence and lower safety is a concern, religious organizations could play a role in providing safe environments for the community to be physically active.”

This is one of fourteen research papers the team has had accepted by peer-reviewed academic journals over the past ten months and one of three accepted at the American Journal of Medicine, the official journal of the Alliance for Academic Internal Medicine. Other papers have been accepted at The Lancet Regional Health Americas, Progress in Cardiovascular Disease, Current Problems in Cardiology, the Journal of Activity, Sedentary and Sleep Behaviors, and the Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation and Prevention.