The problem of obesity in America is becoming greater with every passing year. According to estimates released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, eighty-one percent of counties in the Appalachian region have high rates of diabetes and obesity. In many counties in this region, rates of diagnosed diabetes exceed 10 percent and the prevalence of obesity is more than 30 percent.
The percentage of children and teens who are overweight has more than doubled in the past 30 years. A total of 17 percent of American children ages 2 to 19 are overweight or at risk of becoming overweight. Like adults, overweight children and adolescents are at risk for a variety of health consequences, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, cardiovascular disease and asthma.
Faced with these facts, Cabell Huntington Hospital has launched a significant effort to promote healthy lifestyles in the Tri-State region. That effort started in January 2009 with the hospital's sponsorship of a six-month long television campaign entitled Healthy Tri-State, a partnership between CHH, WSAZ-TV and the Huntington YMCA. As part of Healthy Tri-State, about 40 overweight and unhealthy Tri-State residents took part in a "Healthy Tri-State's Biggest Loser," medically supervised by Dr. Linda Savory, Dr. Patti Jo Marcum, Dr. Carol Shirey, Dr. Shelley Bailey and Dr. Blaine Nease. The participants also received nutritional guidance from CHH and Marshall University dietitians and were given free laboratory testing at the beginning and end of the program. Cabell Huntington is currently sponsoring the 2010 version of "Healthy Tri-State's Biggest Loser" with a new set of contestants learning how to live a healthier lifestyle.
In October 2009, Cabell Huntington Hospital and The Huntington Mall launched the Cabell Huntington Healthy Kids Play Place, a large, soft playground in the Elder-Beerman dome area of the mall. The playground features custom-designed play elements and graphics that promote healthy eating, daily exercise, safety and regular checkups. It also gives Tri-State children a safe place to play and exercise indoors.
Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver had also been in town filming and promoting Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, a reality show created to educate people about the unhealthy effects of junk food and highly processed food and to teach more healthful eating habits to Americans. Oliver started a movement to get school children in Britain eating healthier food and is now taking on the United States. He filmed his reality show in West Virginia because of the bleak statistics for obesity and diabetes in Appalachia, and he worked closely with Cabell County Schools to pilot his school menu on a limited basis. Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution will air on ABC Television this year.
In late November, Cabell Huntington Hospital announced an $80,000 investment in the health of Tri-State children when it joined forces with Oliver to improve eating habits in the public schools. The hospital announced it would financially support the expansion of Oliver's school lunch makeover program to all 28 Cabell County public schools, which include 12,500 students. The Cabell County Schools Food Service Program had already been offering students nutritious meals that include a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables daily, whole grain choices, foods high in fiber and calcium and lower in sodium and fat. With this investment, Cabell County Schools are now going one step further to improve school meals by eliminating processed foods. School cooks are working with chefs from Sustainable Food Systems to learn new techniques and skills needed to cook meals from scratch. The cooks are learning time management as well as cooking techniques to roll out new recipes and menus. Once the cooks have worked with the chefs, schools will maintain the new menus for the remainder of the school year. It will take the entire school year for the chefs to visit each school.
"We applaud Cabell County Schools for their commitment to the health of our children and their courage to be national leaders in the school lunch reform movement," said Cabell Huntington Hospital president and CEO Brent Marsteller. "These changes might be somewhat difficult for students and their parents to adjust to at first, but we strongly believe it's the right thing to do – for our children and our community."
"To get Cabell Huntington Hospital's support here is an epic moment in the school food revolution," Oliver said. "This is the perfect outreach for any big, local hospital. I want Huntington to be a shining example and I really dream that in the next two to three years, every school is changed."
Cabell Huntington also agreed to provide a $50,000 sponsorship to continue operations of Jamie's Kitchen, a community kitchen run by Ebenezer Medical Outreach that provides opportunities for Tri-State residents to learn healthier ways to choose and prepare foods. Jamie's Kitchen, located across from Pullman Square along Third Avenue in Huntington, was the site of healthy cooking demonstrations and cooking classes throughout the show's filming. Ebenezer Medical Outreach, Inc., has taken over management of Jamie's Kitchen and will operate with the help of donations. Cabell Huntington Hospital's donation will be used to continue the cooking classes and healthy initiatives started with Oliver's "Food Revolution."
"Jamie's Kitchen has tremendous potential to improve eating habits and the overall health of our community," Marsteller said. "We are very pleased to join with Ebenezer Medical Outreach, Jamie Oliver and the entire Huntington area to work together to prevent many of the problems associated with unhealthy eating."
"Cabell Huntington Hospital's donation has made all the difference," Oliver said. "I admire Cabell Huntington Hospital for seeing this opportunity and jumping on board. This kitchen has been the hub of activity. It is such a wonderful resource."
Yvonne Jones, executive director of Ebenezer Medical Outreach Inc., said the kitchen will be maintained as part of Ebenezer's Healthy Lifestyle - Healthy Life Program. Participants in the cooking classes will be asked to contribute a $10 donation per class, if possible, to help with the sustainability of the kitchen, Jones said.