Sunday, November 16, 2008
America's Healthiest and Unhealthiest Cities - Its the Economy Stupid
Huntington, West Virginia has been named by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as the unhealthiest city in America. Nearly half of the adults in the five-county metropolitan area are obese and Huntington leads in heart disease, diabetes and elderly people who have lost their teeth. Contrast that with Burlington, Vermont, the nations healthiest city. What’s the difference? It all boils down to money and education.
First let’s look at Huntington. Its poverty rate is worse than the national average. It is a blue-collar white skinned community – people of English, Irish and German ancestry. Over the last few decades the manufacturing jobs have left the area and the remaining jobs are low paying. The largest employers are the hospitals and Marshall University.
Contrast that with Burlington. Only 8% live at the federal poverty level, compared to 19% in Huntington. Nearly 40% of residents have a college degree, compared with 15% in Huntington.
In Burlington, healthy eating is popular. Vegan options are plentiful and even low-income residents have the choice of bulk rice and grains and vegetables at local markets. In Huntington, donut shops abound and Pizza, KFC and fast food offer the best bargains to poor residents.
In Burlington people ride bikes, hike, ski and garden. Huntington has few parks and even on sunny days, residents are not out and about. The rural roads are busy and there are few sidewalks.
Huntington allows smoking in restaurants and local bars and even the hospitals have not been effective in forbidding smoking. Huntington’s culture is one of “you’re not going to tell me what I can or cannot eat” and the fact that poor eating, lack of exercise and smoking causes medical problems does not seem spur change.
Huntington officials are striking back and saying that the CDC report doesn’t exactly “mention” their area by name but includes a larger square mile area, of which they are just a portion. Despite the excuses by the city officials, a local physician, Dr. John Walden who is chair of family and community health at Marshall University says,
"I don't know that I've ever been in a place where I've seen so many overweight people.”
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