West Virginia has the highest adult obesity rate in the nation at 35.1 percent nearly triple that of the state’s rate 20 years ago. And while increases in childhood obesity rates in the Mountain State have begun to slow, medical professionals are warning that disparities persist and severe obesity may be on the rise.
Experts in health campaigns and communications at West Virginia University said to reverse the negative health trends across the country, the conversation is going to have to tap into people’s desire to know “what’s in it for me?”
“There’s only so many times you can say to people ‘there’s a big obesity and diabetes problem in this country. People know,” said Keith Weber, professor of communication studies and coordinator for the master’s in theory and research program.
“We can’t just ask people to make decisions because it’s good for them. Advertisers have figured that out a long time ago. Look at the way we sell LED light bulbs. We don’t sell them on ‘It’s good for the environment.’ We sell them on ‘they’ll last longer,’ ‘they’ll save you money,’ ‘they won’t use as much energy.’ ‘Do it because you’ll get something out of it’ is what I think motivates people.”
Second-year doctoral student Hannah Ball alongside Weber to research evidence-based social influence messages that promote prosocial health behaviors.
She has worked on projects related to organ donor consent, testicular cancer awareness, and obesity/diabetes prevention and management.
The public’s awareness of West Virginia’s obesity statistics and efforts to combat the disease still hinges on some of the most at-risk populations being able to access the information.
“The people with access to (the) information and resources are the people who are more likely to know about it and seek more information,” Ball said.
“How do we reach those people affected by the huge gap in knowledge and resources? Usually those are the people who need the most help.”
According to The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America, a report released last month by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Foundation:
Obesity rates remain higher among Black and Latino communities than among Whites
Adult obesity rates for Blacks in West Virginia were 36.5 percent
Rates of adult obesity among Latinos in West Virginia were 32.1 percent
Among Whotes, adult obesity rates were 33.8 percent in West Virginia
Baby Boomers (45-to 64-year-olds)* have the highest obesity rates of any age group – and 38.7 percent of Baby Boomers in West Virginia are obese.
Some strong resources, Weber said, are already in place. For instance, Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, West Virginia, houses the WVU Hospitals’ Diabetes Education Center, which provides programs in
diabetes self-management, utilizing dietary counseling, exercise
protocols, and other state-of-the-art techniques.
“It’s not ‘if you build it they will come,’” Weber said. “You’ve got to get (people) there.”
For more information contact Keith Weber at (304) 293-3905 or Keith.Weber@mail.wvu.edu.