American Diabetes Association is MIA in W.Va.
West Virginia is among the top five on just about every national chronic disease list. The state leads the nation in diabetes and obesity, according to the Gallup Healthways poll.
Surveys show that many West Virginians do not realize obesity is a leading cause of many chronic diseases. Many also feel those diseases are hereditary, and there is nothing a person can do to prevent them.
The state's children raise major red flags for the future. West Virginia University screens thousands of schoolchildren every year. In 2010-11, they found that 24 percent of fifth-graders have high blood pressure, 26 percent have high cholesterol, and 29 percent are obese. Eighteen percent of kindergartners and 23 percent of second-graders are obese.
There has been little public discussion of this problem. "The Shape We're In" project aims to stir up that discussion. Written and photographed by Annenberg fellow Kate Long, it will be divided into three parts in The Charleston Gazette, the state's largest newspaper:
• Children at risk
• Programs that work
• Communities making a difference
Some segments will be accompanied by West Virginia Public Radio pieces.
Part 24: American Diabetes Association is MIA in W.Va.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Three years ago, when West Virginia was leading the nation in diabetes, the American Diabetes Association shut down its West Virginia office.
State volunteers could not come up with the yearly fundraising goal of more than $100,000 set by the national organization, the former state board chairwoman said.
"We tried to raise it, but we came up short," said Jennifer Honnaker of Huntington.
Now, officials have decided to bring the organization back to West Virginia, ADA Division Vice President Lew Bartfield said.
"I can make a commitment that we will have an office in West Virginia by next January," he told the Gazette-Mail.
"That would be great," Honnaker said. "We need all the help we can get with diabetes education in this state."
An estimated quarter-million West Virginians have diabetes, diagnosed or undiagnosed.
Three years ago, "like everyone else, we were a victim of the economic downturn," Bartfield said. "Nationally, our fundraising was down, and we had to cut back somewhere."
"It was an ill-advised and very wrong decision to close the office in the first place," Honnaker said. "I know it comes down to money, but sometimes you have to look at other things."
There are about 270,000 diabetics -- at least one in six residents -- in West Virginia, and the state leads the nation in diabetes and obesity, according to the 2011 Gallup Healthways survey. In the 2010 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rankings, West Virginia ranked third for diabetes.
"When we had a full-time ADA staff person, she could keep track of available services statewide, so we connected a lot of people with help," Honnaker said, "but now, nobody really knows where the services are."
The state doesn't keep track of them either.
"With a staff person, we could provide education programs for the rural areas," she said. "Now, if the ADA volunteers do anything, it's in Charleston or Huntington, even though the need is in the rural areas."
In other states, including neighboring Kentucky, the ADA helps organize a statewide diabetes network and supports local groups with speakers and materials. The ADA lobbies legislators and keeps the diabetes community informed of developments.
When the Gazette-Mail started talking with national ADA officials in March, Jim McGowan, the group's advocacy director, said, "There are no plans to reopen a West Virginia office. West Virginia will be serviced out of Kentucky."
Kentucky ADA staffer Lisa Edwards, asked in late March what she does for West Virginia, said, "I'm three hours from there. I can try and get you in touch with someone who's a little more familiar with West Virginia."
She had not visited the state for the ADA, she said.
"It would not be fair to say West Virginia had no service" for the past three years, former ADA national board chairman Stewart Perry said. "We still have our national website, we still have the 800 number, and we still mail brochures to West Virginians who call." Unpaid lobbyist Thom Stephens also "keeps an eye on legislation in West Virginia for us," he said.
Bartfield said in April that West Virginia probably would have an ADA office by fall, perhaps housed inside a program with similar aims, he said, to economize on rent and office expenses.
"We'd love to talk with them about that," said Louise Reese, director of the West Virginia Primary Care Association.
"That's an interesting idea," said Evan Jenkins, director of the West Virginia State Medical Association. "We could roll out the red carpet, and they could come back and get busy."
The ADA might have to help the state diabetes community deal with a crisis immediately. West Virginia faces a 56 percent cut in Centers for Disease Control diabetes funding in 2013, unless something changes, according to Joe Barker, who supervises the prevention effort for the state Department of Health and Human Resources.
"That's the information CDC has given us, as of now," Barker said in early April. "So we'd love to see the ADA come back. There's a lot to do."
Reach Kate Long at katel...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1798.