To see the Gallup Healthways poll online, visit http://bit.ly/AbNAiI
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia has the nation's worst statistics in 10 of 12 categories in the new 2011 Gallup Healthways ranking.
Mountain State residents lead the nation in obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, depression, heart attack, cancer, neck or back condition, leg or knee condition and "other recurring pain."
More than one in three West Virginians -- 35.3 percent -- are now obese, according to Gallup Healthways.
"If West Virginia lowered its obesity rate, it would most likely lower its ranking in other categories," Healthways official Reggie Ramsey said. Obesity is at the root of most high chronic disease numbers, he said.
"I think someone is sending us a message that our approach to health care hasn't worked," said Dr. Rahul Gupta, director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department.
"Almost all these problems are preventable," Gupta said. "We should be trying to prevent diseases as effectively as we try to fix them after they happen." West Virginia is just starting down the prevention road, he said. "If we continue, you will see these numbers come down, but it's going to take time."
"It's time for West Virginians to stand up together and say, 'We've had enough, and we can't stand to have such bad outcomes any longer.'"
"We need a good statewide education campaign," said Pat White, who directs Charleston's West Virginia Health Right. "A lot of people don't even know they can prevent these diseases.
"At Health Right, we spend a lot of time teaching people things like, if you walk a half hour a day, it lowers your risk of heart attack or diabetes. Or if you drink two soda pops a day, you're going to gain 20 pounds a year, which increases your risk of heart disease and diabetes.
"People aren't born knowing this stuff," she said. "Billboards, radio ads, and so on could have a big impact." What message would she put on a billboard? "Your grandma and sister may have sugar, but you don't have to," she said.
The health reform law will lower West Virginia's numbers, said Perry Bryant, director of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care.
"If the Supreme Court doesn't strike down the individual mandate and Medicaid expansion, about 190,000 West Virginians will get health insurance. A lot of people will get earlier checkups and catch problems at a preventable stage.
"Even if the mandate is struck down, the law contains many helpful prevention provisions," Bryant said.
"West Virginia has some effective programs, but they tend to be in urban areas. We need to find ways to spread them to rural areas," said Renate Pore, health policy director for the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy.
"To do all this, we need strong health leadership," she said. In 2011, Pore surveyed 33 state health and political leaders, asking how the state could improve its numbers. "Every one of them said West Virginia needs effective health leadership from the Governor's Office," she said. "They all said we have lacked leadership from the top."
Oklahoma City Mayor Mike Cornette is a good example of inspirational leadership, she said. Confronted with high heart attack, diabetes and stroke rates in 2008, he challenged his city to lose a million pounds.