Obesity a problem in West Virginia

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia has once again found itself in a dubious category for health. Trust For America’s annual survey finds West Virginia yet again with the highest rates of obesity in America. Close behind West Virginia were Kentucky and Alabama, but the Mountain State was first in the most recent data from 2021.

There are a number of reasons for the issues West Virginia experiences when dealing with weight. Rhea Farberman, Director of Strategic Communications and Policy Research with the organization said food insecurity and poverty are severe barriers to healthy eating.

“I think most people want to make the healthy choice if they can, but if you live in a community that has a great number of fast food outlets, but not a full service grocery store or if you live 20 or 30 miles from the nearest full service grocery store, it’s harder to make those healthy choices,” she said.

The description defines West Virginia’s issue with geography. There are fewer grocery stories in the most rural parts of the state because so few people live there. Unhealthy food is also a less expensive option. According to Farberman, the situation needs to be addressed by policy makers and the industry.

“It’s a dilemma and we need the food industry to step up and help out to make sure everybody has access. Communities need to work with the industry and the industry needs to work with policy makers. There’s a role for everyone,” she said.

Diabetes, hypertension, high blood pressure, and heart disease are all ailments associated with obesity. Examiners worry we are focused too much on the outcomes and not enough on the root cause.

“We spend about $170 BILLION a year on healthcare in this country related to obesity, we spend only a tiny fraction of that on prevention. We need to flip that equation,” Farberman said in an appearance on MetroNews Talkline.

Most alarming in the study was the rate of child obesity in West Virginia. The rate for overweight children stood at 22 percent in West Virginia, which is again among the highest in the nation. According to Farberman, that’s a function of the school system. They advocate all children have access to nutritious meals for breakfast and lunch, which are free.

“Kids usually get two thirds of the calories they consume during the day at school, so we need to make sure those calories are nutritious,” she said.

Farberman said the other factor which must be considered by educators is working physical activity into the curriculum daily. Ideally, she said creating ways for children to walk or ride a bike to school is the best, but admitted it would be difficult in a rural area.