EDITORIAL: Obesity: Sick and tired

In the latest Gallup Healthways ranking, West Virginia had the nation’s worst scores in 10 out of 12 categories. This state does not have to stay that way. Indeed, it seems plenty of West Virginians are sick and tired of being sick and tired. Charleston Gazette editorial:  May 9, 2012

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — America’s six fattest metro areas include two in West Virginia, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Gallup-Healthways statistics.

Huntington-Ashland is the nation’s third-worst zone, where 36 percent of residents rate as obese and nearly 20 percent suffer from fat-related diabetes, the researchers say.

Sixth-worst is Charleston. Among 51,000 people within city limits, more than 17,000 (33.8 percent) are listed as obese and 17 percent have dangerous diabetes.

Excess weight causes an estimated $147 million extra medical bills per year in each of the two West Virginia trouble spots.

These dismal statistics are no surprise to readers of Kate Long’s powerful Gazette series, “The Shape We’re In.” Week after week, it has presented alarming data about overweight West Virginians — including children — and the miserable ailments they incur: heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and many others. By fifth grade, nearly one-third of West Virginia kids officially are obese, and one-fourth have high blood pressure.

Long’s reports have jolted the state, causing some residents to make new resolutions, to start healthier habits and to reach out to others with similar goals. Her latest segment spotlighted weight-caused diabetes, with these findings:

* West Virginia now leads the nation in diabetes. “This is a genuine epidemic,” Evan Jenkins of the State Medical Association says. “It affects a quarter-million West Virginians.”

* One in six Mountain State residents is diabetic, and around 2,500 die from its complications each year. Those complications include blindness, leg loss, kidney failure, etc.

* Diagnoses of diabetes have tripled in this state since 1994, and the disease inflicts $1 billion in medical cost yearly.

Obesity and weight-caused ailments aren’t limited to this state. They’re a national affliction. A new federal report estimated that 42 percent of American adults will be victims by 2030.

It is humiliating for West Virginia to rank among the sorriest spots, but West Virginia does not have to stay that way. Indeed, it seems plenty of West Virginians are sick and tired of being sick and tired. Across the state, in schools, homes, doctor’s offices, volunteer fire departments, workplaces, individuals discover that small, steady improvements add up to big changes — less weight, healthy blood sugar, health problems lessened or avoided.

West Virginia University’s Extension Service has responded by revamping one of its own web sites in collaboration with the Gazette to support this effort. The result is livewellwv.org, a place anyone can go for information, motivation or inspiration to make healthy habits part of the daily routine.

West Virginia is a perfect place to get outdoors, dig in gardens, explore trails, mow lawns, go mountain biking, canoe on lakes, or otherwise enjoy healthy activity.

As badly as West Virginia currently stands out as a national example of poor habits and failing health, that’s how much potential West Virginia has to be a model for the nation on how to turn these deadly and depressing factors around.

Lovely outdoor weather has returned. We hope it spurs West Virginians to do something about the shape we’re in.

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