Obesity: A Step Back is No Big Deal

Obesity: A Step Back is No Big Deal

By Ken Walker-

Jamie-OliverMay brings more good news to the city that entered the national spotlight four years ago through Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. Indeed, there are so many encouraging developments that Huntington, West Virginia serves as a model for communities everywhere hoping to attack obesity problems.

As I write this, the Wild Ramp is in the process of moving to a larger space in the historic Central City Market.

One of the grassroots developments sparked by Oliver’s award-winning mini-series, the two-year-old market emphasizes locally-grown food (after buying fresh eggs there, we left the supermarket variety behind). Although operating primarily on volunteer labor, the Ramp anticipates soon adding two employees to the rolls.

Healthy Revolution

This move comes on the heels of the news that Huntington was among five Appalachian cities selected for a technical assistance grant to (among other things) increase access to locally-grown food.

To show how things tie together, the co-founder of the Wild Ramp and an employee of Marshall University helped write the grant application.

Such developments will put a spring in the step of those participating in the latest Healthy Huntington Day May 3. The event is sponsored by the grassroots Healthy Huntington Revolution another offshoot of Oliver’s program. The day includes a 5K run/walk, which attracted so many last year those of us who worked the registration table were constantly busy.

Health Starts in the Kitchen

cookingAfter Oliver left town, community leaders came together to take over the space that served as his cooking studio during filming. Last year, Cabell Huntington Hospital assumed operation of Huntington’s Kitchen and expanded its series of healthy cooking classes. Earlier this year, it started offering free monthly health seminars.

In general, there is far more awareness of healthy eating and exercise here. With the exception of mid-winter, long-distance runs after held nearly every weekend within a 50-mile radius. Since such topics once barely registered a blip on the local radar screen, health enthusiasts find much to be encouraged about.

Countering a Black Eye

It is worth reviewing all these positive developments to counteract the black eye the city recently received. Publications like USA Today, London’s Daily Mail and others chronicled our return to the top spot among America’s most obese cities.

This time the news originated with research by the Gallup organization. Oliver came to town after a Centers for Disease Control report about obesity and its attendant health problems in the Tri-State Area.

Beyond the Headlines

Having co-authored the book that emerged from Oliver’s visit, I have followed area health developments closely. They deserve as much mention as the sensational headlines.

winningGranted, the 39 percent rate identified by Gallup’s research is much too high. However, that is still seven percent lower than in the CDC report. Could it be that the healthy message is slowly spreading nationwide and making an impact?

Back in 2011, research showed that over a two-year period the obesity rate in the city and surrounding area had declined to 38 percent. So for it to go up one percent is neither a major setback, nor a surprise in the two-steps-forward-and-one-step back battle with obesity.

I use myself as an example. After keeping at least 20 pounds off for more than five years after bypass surgery, I suffered a serious setback after damaging my back last summer. Treatment included more than three months of physical therapy and additional visits to a chiropractor.

Unable to exercise for eight months, I gained eight pounds. Fortunately, with the pain subsiding, I have started to reverse the trend. So it is with any individuals or communities fighting the obesity battle. One step back is not a reason to quit.


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