CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The rugged, natural Mountain State is a perfect place for people to be fit, lean and healthy. Endless opportunities exist for hiking, biking, swimming, canoeing, climbing or other outdoor sports.
Sadly, most West Virginians don't take these opportunities. Forty years of changes in work, diet and habits contribute to Mountaineers being overweight and out of breath. Cheap, calorie-dense food is easy to buy and prepare. The sedentary nature of most work offers little natural exercise. The pull of passive screen time fills too many waking hours.
It shows. Two-thirds of this state's residents are overweight. Only Mississippi and a couple of other Deep South states have such dismal standings. By one estimate, more than one-third of West Virginia grade-school children are too heavy. Rates of fat-related illnesses -- diabetes, heart disease, stroke, hypertension -- are extreme in Appalachia and show up in children and teens. Medical costs are astronomical.
Last week, another disturbing study said most of America is suffering an "obesity epidemic" that is projected to double by 2030. West Virginia is among 13 states where more than 60 percent of adults may obese by then.
The annual "F as in Fat" report by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation warns:
"Childhood obesity rates have climbed dramatically in the past 30 years. In 1980, the obesity rate for children ages 6 to 11 was 6.5 percent. By 2008, the rate [tripled] to 19.6 percent. ... Children who are obese are more than twice as likely to die before the age of 55."
West Virginia, leading the way into this public and personal health disaster, is also in a position to lead the way out:
Healthier school lunches are on the menu. Schools are interested in adding regular fitness workouts for youth.
For adults, responsibility rests mostly on each individual. Autumn is beautiful in every part of the Mountain State. We hope more West Virginians get out and enjoy the healthy outdoors that surrounds them.