An editorial from the Parkersburg News and Sentinel
PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — Smoking, obesity, poverty, inactivity, poor access to quality health insurance and a high rate of premature deaths make Beckley the unhealthiest city in the country, according to 24/7 Wall Street. As most will guess, those factors are shared across West Virginia, which means, there were three other Mountain State cities in the publication’s top 25 – Charleston, at 13; Weirton, at 20 and Huntington at 22.
Yes, West Virginia has four cities in the top 25 most unhealthy metro areas in the nation. Only Alabama and Arkansas have more. While 24/7 Wall Street pegs much of the blame on poverty in these regions, there is a social/cultural element as well. Smoking, for example, is purely voluntary. It also costs money. According to WalletHub, the average West Virginia smoker will spend up to $1.25 million over a lifetime, in cigarettes, added health care expenses, income loss and other items.
Obesity and inactivity go hand-in-hand. While poor food choices may not be entirely voluntary in some parts of our state, there is plenty of room for improvement. Customers in a fast food restaurant who understand full well that apple slices are a better choice than french fries still go for the fries. Physical activity does not have to mean getting a gym membership or buying expensive new running shoes and equipment. It can mean using a push mower instead of a riding mower to cut grass; taking the dog for a walk instead of letting him roam the neighborhood on his own; playing kickball with your kids. (That is, assuming those kids have not been given permission to spend all hours of the day in front of TV shows and video games.)
An attitude shift is in order, folks. West Virginia’s much lauded work ethic should apply to our own health as much as it does to the jobs we do every day. In fact, as more of those jobs become sedentary, it is essential to make adjustments in our personal lives to offset them.
Getting healthy does not have to cost money. In fact, it will save money, in the long run. If West Virginians are healthier, they will be happier, and perhaps more able to do the heavy lifting required to turn around other aspects of our state’s reputation that are long overdue.