Ohio, W.Va. at weighty end of obesity poll

A local health official is not surprised West Virginia was recently named the state with the highest number of overweight residents in the union.

“We generally alternate within the top three (most obese) states,” said Dick Wittberg, executive director of the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department. “Unfortunately, this news does not surprise me as it is no doubt that we are one of the most obese states.”

According to the 2012 Gallup-Healthways Well-being Index released last week, 33.5 percent of West Virginia’s population is considered obese. Ohio ranks 43rd in the nation with a 29.5 percent rate.

Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and Alabama rank behind W.Va., but ahead of Ohio.

Wittberg said he believes a reason for the Mountain State’s high obesity rate is the change in physical jobs and increase in availability of fast food.

“We used to be a very blue collar state and got a lot of activity through our jobs,” he said. “In the last 20 years or so, many of those physically demanding jobs that took energy moved out of the area.”

Wittberg said lifestyle changes in other daily activities has contributed to the obesity issue.

“We now have a different set of entertainment values as well,” he said. “We spend more time indoors watching television than outside playing and exercising.

“Really, it is a combination of lack of physical activity and the ready access of fast food and junk food in our homes that has contributed,” Wittberg said.

To aid in helping area residents become healthier and decrease the obesity rate, the health department is working with cities to offer healthy foods and activities.

“We are working on programs to get people active and give access to healthy foods to increase the inclination to eat better,” Wittberg said.