WELCH — For a man living in McDowell County, the average age of death is the lowest than in any county in the country.
According to figures released by several organizations, including the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the average age of death for men in the county is 63.9, well below the 72.1 years for the state and 76.3 for the nation.
Women fare only slightly better, with life expectancy at 72.7, with Perry County, Ky. the only county lower. The state life expectancy for women is 78.03 and the national average is 81.3.
It's a problem Del. Clif Moore (D-McDowell) is well aware of, has tried to address and continues to try to address, but the path has not been an easy one.
Those statistics may not change until the causes are tackled, he said, and those causes are dietary, sedentary and cultural in nature.
"Until we change the lifestyles and culture we are not going to change the people's health outcomes," he said. "We can do this through education and participation in activities that embrace healthy living."
Moore said an effort to construct a health and wellness pavilion is still in the works, despite setbacks in the past.
"It would be like a big YMCA and community center to concentrate on health and wellness and make sure people have outlets and programs and services," he said.
Getting that building constructed has been a difficult.
"We are not giving up the efforts," he said. "We are working with organizations like Reconnecting McDowell as well as West Virginia University to put all the pieces together for the center. It's been a struggle, but that makes us want to do it even more."
Another problem is availability of healthy food.
"We have been identified as being a food desert," he said. "There are no outlets to provide healthy fruits and vegetables."
McDowell County's only large grocery store, Walmart, closed its doors last year.
But concepts like the center that would address the problems have seen a rocky road.
In 2010, Moore thought the idea would finally get off the ground.
“McDowell County is at the top of every negative list and at the bottom of every positive list dealing with health care and well-being,” Moore said at the time. “We look at the reports and they are dismal. We are looking at the projections and they are dismal. But what is even more dismal is we haven’t been moved to action.”
At that time, plans were launched in conjunction with Wyoming County, and in partnership with Bluefield State College, West Virginia University, the Region I Planning and Development Council, and Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., on the development of the center, which would have been called the Nick Joe Rahall Wellness and Educational Pavilion.
The $9 million project never got off the ground because of funding issues.
Moore wanted a regional approach, to help residents in other coal counties.
Wyoming, along with Mingo, Logan and Boone counties, all rank near the bottom in life expectancy, as well as in many of the health issues that contribute to major medical problems, including diabetes, lung cancer, heart attacks and strokes.
Those, of course, can lead to an early death.
Moore said he understands these issues, which are generational, and he also understands how difficult they are to fix.
“Until we address those problems (lack of proper diet, lack of exercise and the culture of acceptance), the root causes, we are not going to be successful here, or anywhere else for that matter,” he said.
— Contact Charles Boothe at email@example.com