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It takes work to be unhealthy

November 19, 2008

Based on a cumulative total of obesity, disease and bad habits, a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and prevention just announced the unhealthiest city in the nation and the winner was - not Hagerstown.

Wha...?

What in the heck's going on out there? We lost? In a town where people screw red light bulbs in their refrigerators so it doesn't ruin their night vision?

How many pantyhose seams do we have to split before we get a little attention? I can't imagine how we lost this one. It must have been the methodology. Walking down the streets and talking to yourself must not have been a category.

For the record, the winner was Huntington, W.Va. So the same state that customarily wins for "No. 1 Party School" also takes the prize for home to the unhealthiest city. Go figure.

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The unhealthiest big city was New Orleans. Living under water will do that to you. But the contrast is curious. New Orleans got bad marks because people have too much fun; in Huntington, they don't have enough.

The study took into consideration weight, exercise, diet, diabetes rates and - love this one - percentage of retained teeth.

One metro newspaper was so impressed that it sent a reporter to Huntington, who catalogued the number of joggers (zero) to doughnut joints (millions).

Residents questioned said they were, understandably, too busy trying to find work to hang out at the local Curves.

On the other end of the scale was Burlington, Vt., which was named the healthiest city in America. I can understand. I spend a good bit of time in Burlington and Vermont in general, and if you don't have a canoe or a bicycle strapped to the roof of the car, they pull you over and give you a ticket for having no visible means of recreation.

The study also points out a contrast in eating habits - in Burlington, it's grass-fed beef; in Huntington, it's pizza. Plus, in Burlington, employers do crazy things, like offer health benefits.

In Burlington, they bike, hike, ski and form neighborhood groups that improve parks, repair sidewalks and develop community gardens. In Huntington - well, it doesn't say. But if Hagerstown is a guide, pulling tips is probably regarded as a cardiovascular exercise.

So the upshot appears that moving around is good for you. Who knew? I can't remember ever hearing that before. This should be a lesson to all those people at the supermarket who park at the curb on the theory that "I'm only going to be in there for 10 minutes."

Oh, OK.

Apparently, a lot of other stuff matters, too, such as education, wages and family life. Makes sense. It's hard to develop a sense of fitness and discipline when the only Papa you've ever known is John.

But I've been to Huntington, too, and I don't know that it's all that bad. Every city has its strengths and weaknesses, and I thought there was a lot to like about the hometown of Marshall University. In truth, I have yet to find a college town that's terrible.

But I suppose someone has to be "worst." Besides, any publicity is good publicity, right? Huntington might play this into a tourist attraction: Come watch us die prematurely.

Lucky ducks. And all we can do here in Hagerstown is sit around and wonder, "What if ...?" And have another Twinkie.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or by e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com. You can listen to his podcast, The Rowland Rant, on www.antpod.com.

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