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Forbes study ranks West Virginia ‘unhealthiest’ in the country; Marsh responds

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A Forbes Advisor analysis of drug abuse, lifestyle habits and chronic disease has determined West Virginia is the most unhealthy state in the union.

The study shows has the highest percent of adults who smoke at 21%, these highest percent of adults who are obese at 41% and the second shortest life expectancy among the 50 states at just below 74 years.

Clay Marsh

WVU Health Sciences Chancellor and Executive Dr. Clay Marsh said many external factors are influencing our health statewide. The stress of life and how we see our place in the world can be directly related to our physical health.

“I think there’s more to it than we’re just not disciplined enough to follow a program and lose weight,” Marsh said Friday on MetroNews “Talkline.” “It’s really about how we see the world and how our environment is.”

Marsh said the challenges West Virginians face are generational and caused by many stressors that create feelings of disapproval. Experts have determined chronic inflammation can manifest as a result of continuous worry, stress, and anxiety.

“The more you are in that fight or flight threat response, the higher your blood pressure goes, the more stress on your heart, and the more you produce hormones that block pleasurable responses and also block trust responses,” Marsh said.

The WVU Health System, Marshall Health Network, and Valley Health teamed up to launch Peak Health, a health insurer with a statewide network of providers. The plan offers more diagnostic testing and incentives to improve health outcomes and lower costs.

“We’ve created Peak Health, which is a pathway in which we hope to be able to invest more into the prevention of many of these issues as opposed to just the treatment,” Marsh said.

Marsh said studies of areas in the world referred to as “Blue Zones” where people consistently live to the age of 100 or more while still remaining productive. Whether it’s Loma Linda, California; Okinawa, Japan; or Sardinia, Italy, all have things in common that provide insight into the importance of feeling valued and your health.

“With multi-generations of people, they had friends for their whole lives; they had simple jobs, including herding sheep and working out in the fields, but they felt like their lives had meaning,” Marsh said.

Marsh said some problems documented in the state can be traced back to a generational feeling of discontent. Having personal peace with yourself, your family, and your life is a huge predictor of the overall health of West Virginians.

“Obesity, for which West Virginia is number one in the country and the United States is number one in the world, may well be a symptom of people who feel constantly under threat,” Marsh said.

Other efforts underway to improve health

RAZE Tobacco Free Day

The youth anti-tobacco campaign RAZE continues its efforts in the Mountain State. More than 500 students rallied at the state capitol earlier this week. 

Indy Tupa, an 11th-grade student at Frankfort High School in Ridgeley, and Breanna Cutright, a 10th-grader at Liberty High School in Clarksburg, spoke with MetroNews.

Both of the girls said that while cigarette smoking is still seen as cool for some of their peers, they unanimously agreed that vaping is where the real problem in young people lies.

Cutright said she joined the program to inspire her peers that there’s more to fitting in than what vaping can offer.

“Everybody sees vaping and stuff like that and says, ‘Okay, it’s cool, it’s popular, and I’m going to do it because I want to be cool, I want to be popular,” she said. “So, they’re doing those things to be cool, but they are damaging themselves and they’re hurting themselves to be cool.”

Tupa added that it’s about learning to say ‘no’ and not giving into peer pressure.

“I think it’s really important to know that you can be in an environment with tobacco and nicotine, but you have to make the choice for yourself because you obviously can’t control the people around you, and if your best friend started vaping and you don’t want to vape that’s fine, I think you should help that person because party culture is super prevalent in today’s youth, but I just think it’s super important to make the choices for yourself and not for other people,” said Tupa.

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