‘The Shape We’re In’: An introduction

West Virginia is at or near the top of nearly every chronic disease ranking: diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, hypertension, many more.

It doesn’t have to stay that way.

For now, one in four West Virginia 11-year-olds has high “bad” cholesterol. One in five has high blood pressure.  Almost one in three is obese. One in six kindergartners is obese.

We can do something about that.

West Virginia’s adult obesity rate is predicted to double to more than 60 percent by 2030, if nothing changes. We can change it.winnerbadge

As one state health official said, “This is a public health emergency.” Learn about the problems, meet people and communities trying to bring those numbers down, and find out what you can do in this Charleston Gazette series.

TEACHERS: This site has been developed as a classroom resource for higher education teachers. Here are some ways to use these stories in your classroom. We welcome your feedback and ideas!


This Charleston Gazette series was supported by a Dennis A. Hunt fellowship, administered by the California Endowment for Health Journalism at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

The Shape We’re In: story list with URLs

Short descriptions of each story: easy-to-read, e-mailable pdfs of the actual newspaper pages, with all photos and charts.

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Useful charts and graphs

A wide variety of charts created for The Shape We’re In are available here, with pdfs attached for download.  Credit them as follows: Kyle Slagle for The Charleston Gazette.

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‘This Is a Public Health Emergency’ / One in four W.Va. 11-year-olds has high blood pressure, cholesterol, obesity

“We’re seeing younger and younger people with type 2 diabetes and weight problems that put them at high risk of diabetes,” said Nidia Henderson, wellness director of the West Virginia Public Employees Insurance Board. “The national obesity crisis is hitting West Virginia very hard.”

Thousands of W.Va. kids are headed for diabetes

Jenni, a rural obese teen with high blood pressure and cholesterol, gets a full medical screening at a university clinic, then goes back home to no services, no community physical acivity. As 18 percent of West Virginia kindergartners arrive at school obese, West Virginia children are sending up clear red flags of future diabetes and heart disease.

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Children at risk identified, but who follows up?

Since 1998, West Virginia University’s CARDIAC program  has identified thousands of West Virginia fifth-graders with very high blood pressure, risky cholesterol and obesity – early warning signs of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke – but no state agency has ever followed up on those children.

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“We can beat this” / Health experts say W.Va. can lower its high disease numbers

West Virginia occupies a top slot on almost every awful health ranking: diabetes, heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and others. If the state’s top leaders will put health care on the front burner, that can change, an array of state leaders say.

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“I want to tell people, this is possible.”/ You can prevent, control diabetes

Dannie Cunningham, 61, cut his soaring sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol down to normal range and dropped 56 pounds by working longterm with a diabetes counselor.

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