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I'm Only Fat In Florida

One of my standing jokes goes something like, “The great thing about going back home to West Virginia is that it’s the one place in America where I can look thin. I could always go back and work as an exotic dancer.”
The humor only works, of course, delivered live, from the lips of a fellow 10 or 15 pounds (depending on the proximity to Thanksgiving, Christmas or a certain Mexican restaurant) over his playing weight.
The news out of Huntington, W.Va., where I once worked as a reporter for the local newspaper, offers new validation of my old joke. A study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that more than half the adults in the five-county metropolitan area around the Ohio River town are overweight, essentially ranking my old town as the fattest in the nation. Even the mayor, no elitist, is 5-9 and weighs in at 233 pounds. Chubbiness, together with a propensity to smoke, has also ranked Huntington as the least healthy city in America.
The town’s population, once West Virginia’s largest, has steadily shrunk since I lived there in the early 70s, down to about 50,000. The factories have closed. The coal industry no longer requires the manpower that once made the city a regional business capital. The key statistic, the federal health officials say, is the poverty rate – 19 percent.
It’s one of the great oddities of our time, and an indictment of the nutritional value of the cheap, fast food culture. Fat was once a sign of great prosperity. We are now living in an era, the first in world history, when obesity is a characteristic of poverty.


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