This column is not about fat shaming, but rather an acknowledgment of this fact: West Virginians are too heavy.

Well, not everyone, but a significant percentage.  New figures from the Trust for America’s Health show that West Virginian’s obesity rate is 39.5 percent, and that’s up one percent from the previous year.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m 5’-9” and fluctuate between 165 and 175 pounds.  I’ve tried—halfheartedly—to lose 10 pounds for the last two years through moderate changes in diet and exercise, with no luck.   I’m also pre-diabetic.

So, this is not a commentary about “you people.” It’s about yet another challenge that goes with being a West Virginian.

According to the Trust report, we are tied with Mississippi for having the highest rates of adult obesity, followed by Arkansas, Louisiana and Kentucky.  If you have any friends or relatives in Colorado, just don’t talk to them for awhile, since they will probably remind you that they have the lowest adult obesity rate—23 percent.

The health risks of being too heavy are well known—increased risk for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, some kinds of cancer, gallbladder disease and gallstones, gout and breathing problems such as sleep apnea.

Obesity is expensive.  The Trust reports that treating illnesses associated with weight “increases national health care spending by $149 billion annually (about half of which is paid for by Medicare and Medicaid.”  Additionally, being overweight is the most common reason young adults are ineligible for military service, according to the Trust.

Our Mountain State weight problem is not that surprising since we’re also a poor state, and there is a connection between obesity and poverty.  Studies reviewed by the American Diabetes Association found that “counties with poverty rates of greater than 35 percent have obesity rates 145 percent higher than wealthier counties.”

There are many reasons why—less access to healthy foods, more sedentary lifestyles, fewer options for recreation.  We all know many areas of West Virginia that fit those descriptions.

The Trust for America’s Health suggests expanding Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), increasing the price of sugary drinks through excise taxes, adding more money to evidence-based obesity prevention strategies and even making it more difficult to market unhealthy food to children (I’m not sure how you could do that one).

I don’t have the answers—shoot, I can’t even lose a few pounds—but I do know that this is yet another challenge in West Virginia that weighs us down—figuratively and literally—as we try to get ahead.

Like most predicaments, finding a solution begins with acknowledging that the problem exists.  Consider that part done.


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