A few years ago, various studies showed West Virginians as having among the unhealthiest lifestyles in the nation.
They noted high obesity rates in our residents, the quality of foods available and the type of recreational venues as indicators of our health, along with medical statistics.
Then, English chef Jamie Oliver came to Huntington to put together a television program in an effort to promote healthier lifestyles for the residents there, showing new ways to prepare food and even starting some new community programs.
He went into the schools and attempted to change the breakfast and lunch programs for the students, started up a type of community kitchen to provide educational programs and met with several families to help them develop new skills in their cooking and shopping.
Now, the Change the Future WV program is taking a similar approach in the same area of West Virginia, working with businesses, churches, community groups and others to expand on healthy food options and encourage better lifestyles.
For example, in the nine-county region with which it works, the program has had all but one of its area Wal-Marts participate by offering fruit and other healthy snacks at their checkout lines instead of only candy and junk food.
Hospitals have implemented tobacco-free policies, much like those in our area, and even a tobacco-free park is available in Jackson County.
Now, obviously, it is up to each person to make up their mind about the foods they eat or the activities in which they participate.
All these programs do is to help spread the message and provide information to help us make the decision.
I'm constantly trying to improve my lifestyle, whether it's exercise to counter my often sedentary work life, or making adjustments to my diet.
For the last month, as an example, I've been trying my best to cut out a lot of the sugary snacks I often would eat. No cookies, candy, cakes, not even the occasional bowl of ice cream.
I've been pretty good about it, too. But, it's difficult. I still get that urge around 9:30 a.m. or so, after finishing the day's edition, to head back to the vending machine to grab a bear claw.
I don't smoke or drink, but I know people who do, and people who have tried quitting. I've seen the difficulties they've faced from that choice.
It seems there are more groups and businesses making these efforts to put forth a variety of programs. It's a good thing, I believe, to promote a better lifestyle for our residents, and find ways to encourage the same in the future.
We're all busy these days, and it's just easier to pick up a bag of chips from a vending machine or a burger at the local fast food place while we're on the go.
Again, that's our choice, but what if other options were available to us?
Many fast food places now offer wraps and salads along with their burgers and fried items. They sell fruit smoothies or juices as well as the carbonated beverages, or offer milk with their kids meals.
Locally owned places, including some in Weirton, have no-smoking policies, even if it is not required by the state or county.
The Weirton Event Center has signs requesting guests not smoke on the grounds, for example.
We have increased opportunities for improved fitness, with both gyms and fitness centers, as well as parks and public recreational areas.
Our hospitals and various other businesses offer special health-related events, such as the expo held Saturday at the Fort Steuben Mall.
Colleges are increasingly going tobacco free, or at least limiting its use to their dorms.
Society, as a whole, has not always done the best of letting us know all our options when it comes healthy lifestyles. It's nice to see that starting to change, at least a little bit.
In the end, though, it all has to start at home. It has to be our choice to learn about what is healthy and what's not. It has to be our choice to purchase items which are better for us.
Programs to promote health are great, and I?wish them all well.
(Howell, a resident of Colliers, is managing editor of The Weirton Daily Times, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or followed on Twitter @CHowellWDT)