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?
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Before students at a Wood County West Virginia elementary school ever hit the books, they hit the gym for a half hour of physical activity, waking them up and getting them ready to learn.
Seven of West Virginia’s poorest counties cooked healthy meals from scratch five days a week, the entire 2011-12 school year. In a statewide pilot project, the number of children eating school breakfast doubled, and the amount of federal funding has jumped 38 percent. Next year, state officials want to expand.
Faced with a choice between diabetes and shedding pounds, eight inspiring, determined low-income West Virginians manage to lose an average of 71 pounds apiece in seven months, though they live a half hour from any interstate, gym, track or grocery store. As one health expert said, “They’ve saved other people’s lives. Now they’re saving their own.”
People keep asking Freida Smith how she shed so much weight, slipping from size 2X to size 12. She says Jesus and her medical home, Cabin Creek Clinic, did it. Physicians assistant John Rice coordinates her treatment at Cabin Creek.
Inspired by The Shape We’re In, WVU multimedia students produced their own stories on the subject in 2012: a look at PEIA’s Weight Management Program, a woman who had bariatric surgery, and a woman who decided to become a dietician while she lost weight.
“The state’s obesity epidemic was a natural fit for us,” said MaryKay McFarland, project director.
Five Walmart and Foodland stores and several Kroger groceries in Parkersburg, West Virginia have transformed checkout lines into ‘healthy checkout lines,’ replacing candy bars and junkfood with apples, pears, bananas, jump ropes and other items that encourage a healthier diet and active lifestyle.