Huntington: Fattest City in America?

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HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- It's no surprise that obesity is a problem in our region - but just how bad has it gotten? A newspaper article coming out soon paints a bleak picture.

In fact, it claims one city in our region is the fattest and unhealthiest in all of America.

The title says it all. A newspaper article that claims Huntington is America’s fattest and unhealthiest city. It's set to run Monday in newspapers from coast to coast.

“I think there's substantial bias there with, as I said before, some pre-conceived conclusions,” said Dr. Charles McKown, Dean of Marshall’s Medical School.

The article is by an Associated Press medical writer, who spent several days in Huntington. He cites data from the CDC that says nearly half of the people in the Huntington area are obese, the highest rate in the country.

"It's disturbing because we really are trying to position ourselves in a much better light,” said Brandi Jacobs-Jones, deputy mayor of Huntington.

The problem the CDC says is that its data should not be used to compare different cities, because there are too many variables -- Making the article from the title down questionable at best.

“I think there are health problems every place, but to depict us as an unhealthy community as he has is rather absurd,” McKown said.

Another problem in the article: the writer says Huntington’s phone book lists 200 pizza joints, more than all the gyms in the state. WSAZ investigated and could only find 38.

The writer also says that while he was in Huntington he hardly ever saw a runner or bicyclist.

Thursday evening, though, WSAZ found people packing into Ritter Park, taking advantage of the autumn weather. Some, like Brenda Yeager, were exercising to turn arond those statistics. Yeager suffers from diabetes and exercises everyday.

"You would think that no one exercises reading that, and obviously they've never been to the Y at 7 am or 6 am and you can't get on a piece of cardio equipment,” Jacobs-Jones said.

The bottom line for Dr. McKown is that Huntington is not the unhealthiest city in America.

“I think we're healthier today than we were even a decade ago,” he said.

And he says now the state is moving in the right direction!

There are parts of this article that some consider very demeaning to the area.

The writer, Mike Stobee, says people in the hilly coal fields to the south live in houses or trailers with drooping, battered roofs. He also says they stare hard at strangers in new cars.

Stobee says half of the elderly here have lost all their teeth -- feeding into typical stereotypes of Appalachia.

WSAZ talked to Mr. Stobee, He said he stands by the story and would not comment to us.

Everyone agrees: obesity is a problem here. The question is just how bad.

We should point out: the data refers to "Huntington" as the metropolitan area of Cabell, Wayne, Boyd, Greenup and Lawrence counties.

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