By Rosemary Eng
The 12th Annual Southern Obesity Summit (SOS) will be held October 22-24 in Charleston, West Virginia.
SOS rotates its conference to a different state each year. West Virginia happens to top the list of highest obesity rate among the 11 southern states at 37.7 percent, barely edging out Mississippi with an obesity rate of 37.3 per cent.http://www.southernobesitysummit.org/
While that fact about West Virginia may not be commonly known, some people may recall the media stories generated when British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver decided West Virginians were so unhealthy that he had to go there to show them how to cook and eat healthy.
In West Virginia, where kids are given sweetened, flavored milk at school, Oliver reportedly broke into tears when he was criticized for introducing sensible meals he thought would help Huntington, WV, shake its reputation as one of the unhealthiest cities in America.
Since Oliver’s visit in 2009, West Virginia is still dogged with an obesity problem. He looms as a reminder that they still need to do better.
Dr. Jamie Jeffrey is a Charleston pediatrician and director of KEYS 4Healthy Kids which supports health initiatives like Farm to Childcare, connecting local farmers with local childcare centers so families have the opportunity to buy fresh produce.
Big supermarkets are expanding in Charleston, but mostly with more aisles of processed foods, said Jeffrey. Promoting fresh food at the childcare level encourages young children to develop a taste for fresh-grown foods.
KEYS also promotes outdoor activities such as gardening. So far KEYS has assisted 65 childcare programs and 16 schools with garden projects.
Farmers markets are being promoted in West Virginia not only to provide fresh food, but also to boost the local economy.
West Virginia Department of Agriculture has started distributing coupons to low-income seniors to spend on farmers market fruits and vegetables.
Before the start of the Southern Obesity Conference West Virginia will host a pre-conference event to describe Try This, a coalition of community, professional and government associations working to promote better health, said Jessica Wright, director of the Division of Health Promotion and Chronic Disease, West Virginia Bureau for Public Health.
Try This, https://trythiswv.com/intro/, explains why being healthy is critical to the state which last year had a per capital personal income of $37,924, ranking it 49th in the U.S.
With seven out of ten of West Virginia health care dollars spent on preventable diseases the state has to work to prevent preventable diseases, states the website.
As an indicator of how bad health is in the state Try This reports that nearly one in four West Virginia fifth graders had high blood pressure and one in five kindergarteners were obese, according to surveys in 2012. The Try This website is loaded with low-cost community-based ways to encourage better nutrition and more activity.
Last month Café Appalachia opened in Charleston to not only provide affordable, nutritious meals, but also to provide job training for people in long-term substance abuse recovery.
People who can’t afford to pay for meals can wash dishes and work in the garden where produce is grown for the restaurant, said Wright.
Diet and exercise have a direct effect on obesity but are not the only factors, comments Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford, obesity medicine physician at Massachusetts General Hospital. Other influencing factors can include genetics, environment and hormones.
Coming from the South, having been born and raised Atlanta, she is aware of the obesity problem in the southern states.
West Virginia has a population of about 1.83 million, of which African Americans comprise only three-to-four per cent.
Dr. Stanford, who is African American, says African Americans have a high rate of obesity (46.8 per cent nationally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly the same as for Hispanics, with 47 per cent).
African-American women are the most likely to have obesity with 60 per cent falling in that range and an additional 20 per cent being overweight, she said.
Strangely enough, black men tend to gain more weight the more affluent they are, she said. That’s the opposite of white men who are heavier at the lower income scale.
People with obesity suffer from discrimination and bullying, she says. But worse, untreated obesity can lead to serious and costly health problems like hypertension, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease.
As quoted in a recent journal, she said, “patients with obesity have a decreased quality of life, greater absenteeism from work, and higher mortality rates.”