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Healthiest and Unhealthiest U.S. Cities

The country is getting fatter, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is naming names. Well, not individual names, but towns. Burlington, Vermont was named the healthiest city in the U.S. The unhealthiest was Huntington, West Virginia.

There are a few similarities between the two. They’re both college towns of about 50,000 people; the populations are mostly white and of English, Irish and German decent; the names sound slightly alike… but that’s where the similarities end.

In fact, the differences may be a microcosm of what the demographics look like when comparing obese and fit groups.

- People in Burlington, Vermont are better off financially, with eight percent living at the federal poverty level, compared to 19 percent in Huntington.

- While both are college towns, the residents of Huntington aren’t as educated (maybe the students in Burlington stay after college). Nearly 40 percent of Burlington residents have at least a college bachelor’s degree. Only 15 percent in the Huntington area do.

The cultures differ as well. Burlington is the picture of an eco-friendly, health conscious town. Bicycling, hiking, skiing, and other exercises are common in Burlington.

“There’s this norm of a lot of activity,” said Chris Finley, Vermont’s deputy health commissioner.

While in Huntington the narrative is a bit different. Shari Wiley, a nurse at St. Mary’s Regional Heart Institute in Huntington, runs a program that identifies heavy school children and tries to teach them better eating and exercise habits.

“A lot of the patients we were seeing were getting heart attacks in their 30s. They were requiring open heart surgery in their 30s,” says Wiley.

Nearly half the adults in Huntington’s five-county metropolitan area are obese. And, keeping with the stereotypical image of West Virginia, half of the population has lost all their teeth, which tops in the nation.

Maybe the saddest part is the apparent indifference about the health problems from the Huntington mayor.

“It doesn’t come up,” said David Felinton, who is 5 feet 9 and 233 pounds. “We’ve got a lot of economic challenges here in Huntington. That’s usually the focus.”

November 20th, 2008

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