The Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department took that approach in Calhoun, Pleasants, Ritchie, Roane, Wirt and Wood counties with the Change the Future WV project, funded by a $4.5 million CDC grant.
That project, now ending, will be expanded by the state Bureau of Public Health into a statewide five-year project, funded by a $9.8 million CDC Community Transformation Grant.
The CDC expects West Virginia to reduce its collective BMI by 5 percent by the end of that project, CDC project officer Wendy Heirendt said Monday.
If that happens, according to the "F as in Fat" report, tens of thousands of West Virginians would be spared obesity-related diseases.
The researchers estimated that 60,000 West Virginians would not develop type-2 diabetes who otherwise would have. About 54,000 West Virginians would be spared heart disease or stroke. To get those estimates, they looked at the statistical frequency with which people develop those illnesses at different weights.
They also looked at income and education data. Nationally, one-third of adults who earn less than $15,000 per year are obese, compared to one-quarter of those who earned $50,000 or more per year, in part because their neighborhoods offer fewer affordable healthy choices, researchers say.
The state's four largest health departments will oversee the new five-year community fitness program in all 55 counties. Dick Wittberg, director of the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department, said he plans to concentrate heavily on preventing and reducing diabetes. Rahul Gupta, executive director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, said he plans to work extensively with children and public-awareness media in Southern West Virginia.
But the statewide program is not well-funded. "It's going to take more than a $1.8 million-a-year grant to reduce an epidemic," Bryant said. "Other pieces have to fall in place for change to happen."
In 2014, the Affordable Care Act health insurance reform will provide health insurance for the state's quarter-million uninsured people. "When that happens, a lot of people will get preventative care," Bryant said.
If Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin does not expand the Medicaid coverage, as health-care reform allows, "a lot of working poor people will still not have health-care coverage."
"But if people can get preventative care at the same time as their communities expand healthy choices, that will be a winning combination," he said. "We'd have a real chance to make a desperately needed difference."
Reach Kate Long at 304-348-1798 or katel...@wvgazette.com.