The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

February 25, 2014

Fitness

Communities should do more to promote healthier lifestyles


— The Senate Health and Human Resources Committee last week voted against a bill that supporters claimed was an attempt to help communities encourage a healthier lifestyle in West Virginia.

The measure called for local governments to partner up with state agencies to promote building biking or walking paths, or to use local school gyms, for example, as after-hours workout spas.

Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, led the charge against the bill, saying it would merely duplicate efforts already under way to get West Virginians off their easy chairs and into a workout routine.

“I think this adds another layer we don’t need,” Plymale said, speaking, we think, of bureaucracy and not an additional roll around the belly.

We certainly encourage our lawmakers to guard against bureaucratic waste, so we have to credit Plymale for making his stand on the issue.

In addition, as director of the Rahall Transportation Institute, he contends that the state Department of Transportation has hired and deployed personnel to build just the kind of trails and paths the rejected bill would create.

We’re not sure just what numbers, as in dollars, would be needed to fund the Senate measure. But we think rejecting this bill may have been premature.

The reality in West Virginia is that most of us could be doing a lot better at working out and creating healthier lifestyles.

As of last year, the state ranked 46th in the nation, according to americashealthrankings.org, in its annual report.

West Virginia, the report said, has a number of challenges, including a high incidence of smoking and physical inactivity, a high rate of obesity and diabetes, and a high rate of preventable hospitalizations.

In fact, the state:

- Has the second-highest rate of smoking in the United States at 28.2 percent of the adult population.

- Obesity levels rose from 2012 from 32.4 percent of the adult population to 33.8 percent.

- Ranked second-to-last in the rate of physical activity at 31 percent of the adult population.

It’s just possible that local communities, if urged to be creative, could organize volunteers to create a walking path on town property, or get together to put some donated equipment into a school or underutilized town hall to create a workout center.

We’re pretty sure that the Department of Transportation hasn’t hired enough personnel to reach every community in West Virginia with ready-made trail and bike path maps already in hand.

While we commend Plymale’s concern for the proper use of a taxpayer dollar, we think it might do our communities good to get up and out of the house, even if it’s just to attend an organizational meeting.

We think the locals, even those who are just sitting around smoking, might have some better ideas on just what can be done with the local resources available.