CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sadly, West Virginians have almost the worst health in America. This state ranks near the bottom in obesity, which brings a severe toll of diabetes and heart trouble -- and in cigarette smoking, the biggest cause of needless premature death -- and in painkiller and meth addiction, which renders many young people unfit for jobs -- and in sedentary living, which brings flab.
Kate Long's year-long Gazette series, "The Shape We're In," documented these problems thoroughly.
It warned that this state has the nation's worst diabetes rate -- "a genuine epidemic," State Medical Association chief Evan Jenkins said. "It affects a quarter-million West Virginians."
The series pounded ominous reports that nearly one-third of Mountain State children are obese by fifth grade, and one-fourth have high blood pressure.
It warned that West Virginia's total health costs, public and private, are on track to balloon to an estimated $22.5 billion by 2018.
Meanwhile, the series also spotlighted many diet-and-exercise efforts striving to improve Mountain State health. It made hometown heroes of volunteer groups who team up to shed pounds and become fit. It hailed former state Schools Superintendent Jorea Marple for her drive to make school lunches more nutritious.
Last week, a crusading health organization, the West Virginia Perinatal Partnership, honored this newspaper for its all-out campaign. One leader, the Rev. Jeff Allen of the West Virginia Council of Churches, said:
"The Charleston Gazette has created a badly needed and productive sustained conversation on this issue. The Gazette's late publisher, Ned Chilton, would have called it 'sustained outrage.'"
We thank the Partnership for its recognition. The organization, which focuses on babies and childhood, likewise battles for health improvement. Its reports warn that too many pregnant West Virginia women are overweight or hooked on illicit drugs. One report says:
"West Virginia has the highest smoking rate among pregnant women (27.3 percent) in the United States, nearly triple the national rate (just under 10 percent). Smoking during pregnancy increases the risks for low birthweight, preterm deliveries and infant mortality."
Inferior health is a social problem, just like crime, poverty, racism, alcoholism, addiction and other societal ills. West Virginia needs every possible effort to raise its dismal standing.