Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Editorials

September 21, 2012

A weighty problem — Obesity projections a warning for W.Va.

A new study that should raise more than a few red flags is predicting that six in 10 West Virginia adults will be obese by the year 2030.

However, health officials stress that the Mountain State can avoid this unhealthy future if statewide efforts to promote healthier lifestyles are implemented and take hold. The report released by the nonprofit groups Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that the number of obese adults in the state, along with related disease rates and health care costs, are on target to skyrocket to alarming levels over the next two decades.

The Trust for America’s Health predictions were based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures from 1999 through 2010, along with other national data and recent trends in obesity rates, the Associated Press reported.

The CDC found last month that 32.4 percent of West Virginia adults were obese.

Also particularly troubling are figures released by the state-funded CARDIAC project, which screens West Virginia children for heart disease, diabetes and other cardiovascular issues. It found that of the 81,0000 fifth graders who have been screened since 1998, 28 percent were considered obese, and an additional 19 percent were overweight.

The news doesn’t come as a surprise. Unfortunately, we’ve seen report after report that details health woes for youngsters and adults in the deep south counties of West Virginia, including the annual Kids Count study.

“The data is there that supports we have a problem,” Dr. Ron Stollings, a Boone County physician and chairman of the Senate Health and Human Resources committee, said. However, “there is a lot of focus and effort being made in West Virginia to otherwise keep this (trend) from happening.”

For example, he cites a $347,000 federal grant the state recently received to promote healthier school meals. The goal of that campaign is to encourage students to eat meals prepared at higher nutritional standards that in return should help with their academic performance.

Other ongoing initiatives, such as the new Reconnecting McDowell campaign, are also working to address social and health concerns facing at-risk youth in McDowell County and across southern West Virginia.

At the end of the day, health care officials across the state must be prepared to fight the obese future predicted by this alarming new study.

If this grim projection holds, a myriad of additional health problems will follow. For example, the report projected that obesity could contribute to 282,164 new cases of type 2 diabetes, 659,007 new cases of coronary heart disease and stroke, 558,316 new cases of hypertension, 347,324 new cases of arthritis, and 88,983 new cases of obesity-related cancer.   

Clearly, this is a future we must fight to prevent. An overly obese Mountain State is bad news for both adults and children.

This latest report must be viewed as a call to action for health officials, and elected leaders, across the state.

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