Short descriptions of each story: easy-to-read, e-mailable pdfs of the actual newspaper pages, with all photos and charts.
1. ‘This is a public health emergency’ / One in four W.Va. 11-year-olds has high blood pressure, cholesterol, obesity. As 18 percent of W.Va. kindergartners arrive at school obese, West Virginia children are sending up clear red flags of future diabetes and heart disease.
2. * A growing problem / Thousands of W.Va. kids are headed for diabetes
Jenni, a rural morbidly obese 14-year-old with high blood pressure, gets a medical screening at a university clinic, then goes back home to a county with few services, no community physical activity. https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/1-thousands-of-wv-kids-headed-for-diabetes.pdf
3. Children at risk identified, but who follows up? West Virginia University’s CARDIAC program has identified thousands of children with early warning signs of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke – but no state agency has ever followed up on them. Why not?
4. * “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. If the state’s top leaders will put health care on the front burner, that can change, an array of state leaders say. https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/5-021312-we-can-beat-this.pdf
5. “I want to tell people, this is possible.”/ You can prevent, control diabetes. Dannie Cunningham, 61, cut his soaring blood sugar and blood pressure down to normal range and dropped 56 pounds with a diabetes counselor. Long used his lively story to show that can happen. https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/4-021312-dannie-tthis-is-possible.pdf.
6. Leadership needed, health officials say / W.Va. ranks first in heart attack, diabetes, eight other health categories. West Virginia has the nation’s worst statistics in the 2012 Gallup Healthways poll. Surveyed health officials say the state has no clear direction and lacks health leadership that could inspire everyone to pull together to lower the numbers. https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/13-040112-leadership-needed.pdf
7. * What happened? How /Why / When did W.Va. pack on pounds? In the early 1900s, West Virginians were described as a lean ‘stomachless’ people. Now the state leads the nation in obesity and diabetes. https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/6-022612-what-happened.pdf
8. * “Get kids moving however we can”/ Marple: Add exercise to lessons. West Virginia Schools Superintendent Jorea Marple is unrolling a campaign for more physical activity in every child’s day to improve concentration and battle obesity. https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/7-021912-get-kids-moving-add-exercise.pdf
9. Five days a week: Daily physical activity is affordable, Department of Education says. West Virginia’s Office of Healthy Schools is investigating ways to add physical activity on days when kids don’t have P.E. It doesn’t have to be expensive, fitness proponents say. https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/8-021812-get-kids-moving-daily-phys-activ.pdf
10. “It’s not the shape you are, it’s the shape you’re in” / Active kids do better academically. If you get a child of any weight more fit, you will probably improve that child’s academic performance, Wood County researchers showed in their research on the subject.
11. Nebraska school district slims kids by 13 percent / Can W.Va. schools do it too? A Nebraska school chopped the obesity rate of its grade school students by a stunning 13 percent in five years. How did they do it? Could West Virginia do it? https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/11-022112-can-wv-do-what-kearney-did.pdf
12. Rocking the gym at 7:30 AM. / Wood County grade school kids get fit before they sit. Before students at a Wood County grade school hit the books, they hit the gym, waking them up and getting them ready to learn, at little cost to the school. https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/10-022012-rockinthegym-at-7-am.pdf
13. * Success from scratch / Seven counties feed kids fresh food daily. Schools in seven of West Virginia’s poorest counties cooked healthy meals from scratch five days a week in 2011-12. Breakfast-eaters doubled, and federal funding jumped 38 percent. State officials plan a statewide push to improve school meals. https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/14-040812-success-from-scratch.pdf
14. Six months after the great Kanawha food fight? / Fewer kids ate; schools lost money. Kanawha County Schools try again to improve school meal nutrition, after chaos broke out the year before. A look back at Jamie Oliver’s visit to W.Va. and the impact on Kanawha County.
14. “They’re focusing better in class.” / Mingo County stages breakfast revolution in schools. A visit to Kermit Elementary in Mingo County, where schools have doubled the number of students eating breakfast and lunch and are making food from scratch, five days a week. https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/16-041012-kermit-school-food-remake.pdf
15. * “Everyday heroes.” Mud River women fight fires, lose hundreds of pounds, battle diabetes. Eight inspiring, determined West Virginians manage to shed an average of 71 pounds apiece in seven months, though they live a half hour from any interstate, gym, track or grocery store. https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/12-030412-mudriver-everyday-heroes.pdf
16. Mud River part 2. ‘We don’t read research; we just do it.’ Why did the Mud River Pound Punchers succeed when they theoretically weren’t supposed to? How does research explain this? Several West Virginia health experts have theories. https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/12a-030412-mudriver-research-side.pdf
14. American Diabetes Association is MIA in W.Va. West Virginia is at the top of the charts in diabetes, yet the American Diabetes Association pulled out of the state three years ago. Now the group says it’s coming back. https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/22-050612-ada-is-mia-in-wv.pdf
15. Body, spirit, and medical home / ‘Jesus and Cabin Creek Clinic delivered me from food.’ Freida Smith credits a faith in Jesus and a physician’s assistant at the Cabin Creek Clinic. Her story also demonstrates the power of medical home and emotional support in diabetes self-management. https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/23-jesus-and-cabin-creek-clinic.pdf
16. W.Va. slammed with sugar / Deadly epidemic ‘exploding in front of us’ About 125,000 diabetics live in West Virginia, according to Gallup Healthways. Another estimated 125,000 are near-diabetic, but can still head it off. Yet the state has no statewide counter-attack. https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/16a-042912-slammed-epidemic-exploding.pdf
17. Glenda and Jill vs. diabetes: ‘We can beat that old sugar.’ Nursing home cook Glenda Blake figured she’d get diabetes because other family members had. Her blood sugar waltzed up to the brink, but she met a diabetes counselor who helped her waltz it back down. https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/17-042912-glenda-and-jill.pdf
18. * This is how bad diabetes can be: ‘Diabetes is not for sissies’ Amputation, blindness, kidney disease: a portrait of several West Virginians undergoing dialysis, whose lives have been forever changed by diabetes, who are teetering on the edge of death.
19. * Everette’s story: It doesn’t have to be that way. Everette Ray Roberts of Mingo County is one of an estimated 69,000 West Virginians who have diabetes, but don’t know it. Living in an isolated area, he was lucky enough to be diagnosed in time and to find a good diabetes counselor. https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/19-042912-but-it-doesnt-have-to-be.pdf
20. Logan hardest hit by diabetes: 6,000 diabetics, but no diabetes education … yet. The home county of the governor is also home to at least 6,000 diabetics — one in six, the highest rate in the state. Yet there were no diabetic education services in Logan County till spring 2012. https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/20-043012-logan-no-diab-ed.pdf
21. * Appalachian myth stands in way of diabetes prevention, expert says. A persisten cultural story line says that if your grandma and your dad had diabetes, you’re going to get it, and there’s not a thing you can do to stop it. An exploration of that myth and people trying to bust it. https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/21-050112-you-dont-have-to-have-diab.pdf
22. * “You’re an inspiration, Benji!” / With town’s support, Ripley teen runs off 100 pounds. The treadmill is a tight fit in his living room, but16-year-old Benji Willis has run off 102 pounds in six months. He gets important support and feedback from his family, church and volunteer fire department. https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/24-052012-benji-supported-all-round.pdf
23. * Blessed by music and bummed by diabetes / “You control it, or it controls you.” Donovan Patterson, 16, is one of a growing number of young African-American West Virginians diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.” He had trouble accepting it. In this low-income state, whites and blacks get diabetes at close to the same rate, saying income is a more powerful determinant than race. https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/25-052112-teen-type-2-shock1.pdf
24. Learning to deal with setbacks / Girl, 9, and grandparents try to hold off diabetes. A 9-year-old Jackson County girl is insulin resistant, at risk of diabetes. Swimming, walking and exercising, she and her grandparents contend with setbacks as they try to bring down her diabetes risk.
25. Mud River women, part 3 / 1 year, 555 pounds, 555 balloons. The Mud River VFD women celebrated the loss of 500 pounds and reflect backward and forward. https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/27-060312-mud-river-celebration.pdf
26. W.Va. school cooks learn new tricks. As part of an ongoing effort to provide more healthy meals in the state’schools, 80 cooks from 15 West Virginia counties learn tips and tricks for making meals both healthy and tasty. https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/28-060712-cooks-learn-to-cook.pdf
27. Marple urges collaboration on obesity, teen pregnancy and hunger. State School Superintendent Jorea Marple challenged state wellness conference attendees to join forces to tackle problems that are “too big for schools to handle alone”: obesity, teen pregnancy, and child hunger.
28. * Extra fat = extra problems / What fat can do to your health. What kind of damage can fat do in the body? How does it happen? A neurologist and bariatric doctor takes the reader on a tour through the body and offers solid advice. https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/30-062412-whatfatcandotoyrbody.pdf
29. Logan ramps up to fight diabetes / County coalitions forming statewide with little help from the state. Twelve counties, faced with rapidly-spreading diabetes, have formed countywide diabetes coalitions to try to slow the spread. With little to no help from state government, they are struggling to keep going. https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/31-070112-diab-coalitions-forming1.pdf
30. Who do you call? / State doesn’t keep track of diabetes classes, services / Newspaper pulls together list. Where do West Virginians turn for help with preventing or coping with diabetes? The state maintains no list of services. https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/32-and-33-070112-diab-self-mgmt-list.pdf
31. Looking for diabetes self-management services in W.Va.? West Virginia leads the nation in diabetes, but the state does not track available diabetes education services. No services list is available. The Gazette-Mail pulled together this list. It’s not complete, but it is the best available.
32. “A middle-aged guy trying to stay fit.” Wyoming County official: Road planners can fight diabetes, heart disease. A look at the need for bike lanes, through the eyes of the Wyoming County clerk, an avid biker. https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/35-middle-aged-guy-getting-fit.pdf
33. Get those counties moving! Counties aim for fitness in first-ever healthy counties conference. An overview of the way local officials’ idea of their job is changing to include public health. https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/34a-071512-getcountiesmoving-healthy-counties-conf.pdf
34. WVU students uncover weight-loss stories. Inspired by The Shape We’re In, WVU multimedia students produced their own stories on the subject: 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.
35. West Virginia project called “model for America.” https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/36-091812-change-the-future.pdf
36. 2012 report predicts obesity in West Virginia to nearly double.
37. * “Ounces of Prevention / Breastfeeding lowers risk of obesity, many other diseases. West Virginia is third-lowest in percent of women who breastfeed. Breastfeeding lowers the risk of many of those diseases and obesity. A close look at state hospitals and newborns, compared to national stats. https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/37-092312-breastfeeding-lowers-risk.pdf
38. One Family at a Time / “About 4,000 mommies have my phone number.” WIC breastfeeding consultant Jenny Morris has helped thousands of new mothers get a good start. Readers follow her from hospital room to room. https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/38-092312-one-familiy-at-a-time.pdf
40. Tips/research: Breastfeeding tips for the first days, breastfeeding research.
41. Mothers’ Choice / Six local moms share the benefits of breastfeeding. Six young West Virginia mothers share their experiences with breastfeeding, early in the baby’s life, from daily life for stay-at-home mothers to pumping milk at work and bosses who won’t let you pump. https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/40-093012-six-breastfeeding-moms.pdf
42. Fifty miles for fifty years. University of Charleston professor Brad Deel an 50 miles on his 50th birthday, celebrating a transformation from couch potato to running enthusiast, greatly lowering his risk of chronic disease. A look at Charleston’s trail situation. https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/41-100712-50-years-50-miles.pdf
43. State and federal officials call W.Va.’s diabetes rate emergency, urge action. Diabetes costs W. Va. more than $1 billion per year, according to the American Diabetes Association. “It will cost $3 billion by 2025, if we don’t take steps to stop it,” said Gina Wood, director of the state Diabetes Prevention and Control Program, which has two employees.
44. That dark patch may be a red flag / Diabetes risk marker on back of neck of 1 in 20 W.Va. children. An acathosis nigricans marker on a 14-year-old’s neck helped doctors discover she has type 2 diabetes. West Virginia does not screen all children for the marker. Why not? https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/42-110412-an-marker.pdf
45. Diabetes association returning to West Virginia. After nearly four years of absence and little-to-no direct help for West Virginia, the American Diabetes Association officers say they plan to come back to the state in 2013. West Virginians are dubious. https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/42a-ada-coming-back.pdf
46. “There are dramatic savings to be had.”/ Medical homes can reduce ER usage, out-of-control Medicaid spending. As local hospitals contend with frequent ER users, Medicaid plans to provide its most complex patients with care management, and local community health centers prove care management lowers ER usage and Medicaid spending. An easy-to-understand look at cost shift and prevention. https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/43-111812-care-mgmt-er-prevention.pdf
47. “They gave me back my life.” / Clinic’s program keeps patients out of hospitals, saves millions. Two patients tell about the way Health Right lowered their ER use and hospital stays by giving them good care and teaching them to care for themselves. A companion to story #44. https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/44-111812-health-right-models-care-mgmt.pdf
48. “It’s in our interest to learn this stuff.” / State trying to spread diabetes self-help to every county. Marshall University has been trying for years to spread Stanford University’s Chronic Disease Self-Management class. Now they may get some help from the state. https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/45-111912-in-our-interest-cdsm1.pdf
49. Soda pop, Uncle Mike, and the importance of breakfast. Charleston Area Medical Center’s Dr. John Linton has interviewed more than 500 morbidly obese people about their lives and habits. He shares some of what he’s learned about the influence of families, the importance of breakfast, and the origins of obesity. https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/46-121612-uncle-mike-and-breakfast.pdf
50. Fitness and Fellowship / “This is something any church could do.” The Little Dove Baptist Church congregation decides physical health goes hand-in-hand with spiritual health and finds a way to do something about it. https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/47-122312-little-dove.pdf
51. Declare war on diabetes in West Virginia, feds urge. “Churches can be an important part of that.” A companion story with #48. Officials from the Centers for Disease Control visited Mingo County’s Little Dove Baptist Church and used the occasion to issue a warning. https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/47a-declare-war-on-diabetes.pdf
52. Going to the doctor with 11 other people. A look at a promising way to combine group support meetings with preventative primary care visits. New River Health Center is pioneering medical group visits, with good results. https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/48-122612-my-med-family1.pdf
53. Saving dollars, saving lives. City of Charleston creates clinic, gym, drug plan, goes for prevention. The city of Charleston is scoring big gains in health while staying ahead of the game financially with its two-year-old preventative health plan that lets employees get health care on work time.
54. Former city insurance was almost bankrupt. A companion story to #51. How Charleston did it.
55. Phares grew up active, wants kids active and fit. A look at the new state school superintendent’s record and thoughts about the need for physical activity and better nutrition in the schools to combat the state’s obesity and chronic disease epidemic.
56. “Keep going! Don’t give up!” Early trauma packed on pounds. Grit and good support took them off. Young Putnam Countian Eric Duesenberg tells his inspiring story that started with severe early medical problems and trauma that caused him to pile on the pounds.
57. In W.Va. fifth-graders, blood pressure, cholesterol, obesity fall. In fragile, but promising signs of progress, all three of the big fifth-grade indicators fell in this year’s measurements by West Virginia University’s CARDIAC school screening: blood pressure, cholesterol, BMI. https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/cardiac-numbers-drop-combined.pdf
58. Oprah Winfrey Network featured Lincoln County Pound Punchers. After the Mud River volunteer fire department women appeared in this series, the Oprah Network called. “They are in this show because we’re in the midst of a devastating epidemic of obesity, and they are showing us something inspiring, something that’s working,” said host Lisa Ling of “Our America.” https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/mud-river-oprah-combined.pdf
59. Sustainable Williamson: A healthy conspiracy. Pieces coming together in Mingo County. Mingo County ranks first or second in West Virginia in almost every chronic disease. Williamson is county seat of Mingo County. Yet local people have created an array of healthy activities that are dramatically changing the town’s health picture and culture. https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/sustainable-williamson-combined.pdf
60. A list of Sustainable Williamson projects. The Sustainable Williamson cooperating organizations include the Mingo County school system, city government, churches, businesses, the Tug Valley Runners, and the Diabetes Coalition, among others. A wide range of projects add up to a healthier, more vibrant community. https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/sustainable-williamson-combined.pdf
61. Williamson offering monthly 5Ks. / “We’re revising our own stereotype of ourselves.” Every month, Sustainable Williamson holds a 5K run/walk as one of many ways they are trying to help people who live there enjoy themselves while lowering their risk of diabetes, obesity and heart disease. Hundreds are joining in, training inbetween to beat their own time. https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/mingo-5ks-combined.pdf
62. Mingo schools fight poverty with fitness. / Wellness program boosts attendance, test scores, discipline. In 2010, Mingo County Schools Superintendent Randy Keathley took a hard look at the facts. Thirty two percent of his fifth-graders had high blood pressure, according to West Virginia University screening , and 35 percent were obese. He took action to change that. https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/mingo-school-fitness-combined.pdf
63. Bill Clinton helping WV kids get fit. Former President Bill Clinton struggled with his weight as a child. Now his foundation is helping thousands of West Virginia kids get in shape. This year, 158 West Virginia schools in 13 counties are signed up for the Healthy Schools Program, including all Mingo County schools.
64. Healthy opportunity. KEYS 4HealthyKids expanding to nine counties. In 2012, KEYS 4 HealthyKids communities created walking trails and parks, grew vegetables in many ways, upgraded a food pantry menu, started a farmers market and worked with more than 800 Kanawha County kids. Now they are expanding to nine other counties.
65. Girls are on the Run. Afterschool program “is about a whole lot more than running.” About 600 West Virginia girls in six counties are already taking part in the internationally-praised Girls on the Run program that combines a character-building program with running for the fun of it into an eight-week program culminating in a 5K.
66. “We’re hoping. We’re moving.” / In Braxton, fitness is economic development too. The town of Sutton is typical of many West Virginia communities faced with a daunting obesity/chronic disease problem, motivated to make it otherwise. A portrait of a town starting to tackle that problem. https://theshapewerein.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/sutton-combined.pdf
67. “We’re headed in the right direction.” With little state leadership, some communities are still find many ways to prevent obesity. But it’s happening in pockets of the state, with no organized means to spread successes from county to county. Yet healthy lifestyle efforts are spreading.
68. Will child obesity keep dropping? / “In many ways, it’s up to us.” A self-explanatory title, followed by a look at some young reasons to hope that, ten years from now, West Virginia will no longer be on the top of every awful chronic disease list.
“The Shape We’re In” was published in the Charleston Gazette between February 2012 and May 2013. It received the top national public health award of the Association of Health Care Journalists. Stories and most photos by Kate Long.
The series was partially funded by a Dennis A. Hunt Fund for Health Journalism fellowship, administered by the California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.