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This article was originally published in the Harrison County, WV News & Journal on January 30, 2023

A recent study by the Forbes Advisor presented some shocking facts about the health of West Virginia residents. According to Forbes, West Virginia is ranked as the unhealthiest state in the country, followed by Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama, and Arkansas. The primary reason for West Virginia leading this list is the prevalence of illness and death from chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, and respiratory illness. While states like to trumpet the news that they are number one in a ranking of states, this is one list that does nothing to enhance the quality of life or the attractiveness of the state for business and tourism.

The state also had the highest percentage of adults who smoke and the highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the country. As most people can attest to, illegal drug use has devastated our communities and impacted families in a way that will carry forward to future generations. Cities and towns share a disproportionate amount of the cost of illegal drug use, with homelessness and increasing crime consuming a greater share of their budgets than anytime in previous history. As might be expected, the unhealthy lifestyles lead to a shortened life expectancy of 73.9 years compared to the most healthy state, Hawaii, which has a life expectancy of 80.87 years.

Cities and towns are coming to realize that the solution to these troubling statistics will require community-wide efforts and changes in policy, rather than relying on individual actions. Building a healthy community requires public investments and commitment to giving citizens an environment that allows for healthy activities and access to healthy food choices. Sidewalks, walking trails, public parks, and swimming pools are all a part of building a healthy community. Cities and towns can also adopt policies for their own workforces that lead to a healthy outcome for their employees. In addition to assisting employees on their journey to healthier lifestyles, it also sends a message to the community that focusing on healthy choices is good for business and helps with retention and recruitment for both the public and private sector.

On the policy front, cities and towns can continue to support efforts to reduce tobacco use and drug use. While decades of Surgeon General warnings and public relations campaigns have reduced smoking levels in other states, West Virginia’s cities and towns need to encourage further legislation to discourage young people from starting to use tobacco products and provide programs for older citizens to quit this dangerous habit.

Many people are under the belief that if we build enough hospitals and healthcare facilities, we can improve the health of our state’s citizens. While health care facilities can treat people who are ill, real improvement in these health statistics comes about when communities are working together to make changes in lifestyles and making better choices available for citizens. Change won’t come overnight but cities and towns in West Virginia can make a meaningful difference in the lives of all citizens and insure a bright future for the Mountain State. Let’s get started!

Author’s Note

Bearing Advisors is working with local governments throughout the country to provide a solution to the healthcare crisis. Partnering with Attentive Preventative Care Management Company, we can offer a suite of value-added wellness products for government employees and help bring down the cost of group health insurance through a preventative care management focus.

For more information about the Attentive Program, contact:

John Matheny, Senior Director, Business Development
Office: 833-270-2500 ext. 9
Cell: 304-203-6135

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