Improvement: We can change unhealthy lifestyles

Despite its abundance of outdoor recreation and fitness opportunities and a heritage of backyard garden cuisine that stands up with the finest dishes anywhere — we have festivals for everything from ramps to Golden Delicious apples around here — West Virginia is routinely named among the unhealthiest states in the country.

It was no surprise when the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute released this year’s analysis of every county in the country that southern West Virginia counties filled the bottom ranks. Mercer, Logan, Wyoming, Mingo and McDowell were 51st through 55th as the state’s unhealthiest counties.

Drug abuse, obesity, diabetes, smoking … much of what contributes to the unhealthiness of some counties can be seen as part of a larger picture of economic struggle. But those of us living in less economically affected parts of the state have no reason to be smug.

Wood County residents might be surprised to learn we rank 32nd in terms of “how long people live and how healthy people feel while alive,” and 20th for “health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic, and physical environment factors.”

Meanwhile, our neighbors in Pleasants and Jackson counties are finding ways to be much healthier (according to the terms of the analysis). Pleasants is 14th in those “health outcomes” numbers and eighth in the “health factors” category. Jackson is 11th and 12th, respectively.

Clearly, folks who live just across our county lines are getting something right.

Let’s do something about it, Wood County. It may seem like a concern that should be farther down on the priority list than tackling the opioid epidemic, bringing new jobs to the area and getting our education system right for our kids, but healthier people will do a better job of solving all those problems.

Get moving, get outside, eat a little better … take some time to take care of yourself. We might be surprised at what else starts to improve when we get serious about our health.