West Virginia leads the nation in diabetes, heart attacks and obesity in the 2011 Gallup-Healthways ranking. One in four West Virginia 11-year-olds has high blood pressure and high cholesterol. One in five kindergartners is obese. As one public health official said, “This is a public health emergency.” Learn about the problems, meet people trying to bring those numbers down, and find out what you can do in this Charleston Gazette series.
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This ongoing Charleston Gazette series is supported by a Dennis A. Hunt fellowship, administered by the California Endowment for Health Journalism at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Health statistics suggest that there are children alive today who will live shorter lives than their parents because of the habits they are learning now — the foods they are conditioned to prefer, the lack of opportunities to form lifelong exercise habits. That can be changed through awareness and support. Continue reading
At the turn of the 20th century, West Virginians were described as a lean ‘stomachless’ people. Now West Virginia leads the nation in obesity and diabetes. What changed? And what can we do?