It is no secret that West Virginia’s population, in general terms, is unhealthy — based on available statistics. Many residents have diabetes, heart disease, obesity, among other maladies.
West Virginia is also one of the states ranking at the top in substance abuse, specifically opioid pain relievers, which is adding to early death and declining health statistics.
Wyoming County’s population is one of the unhealthiest in West Virginia. So county residents are among the unhealthiest, in general terms, in the nation.
That kind of data will be the product of the newly organized West Virginia University School of Public Health.
Dr. Alan Ducatman, interim dean of the school which officially begins its work July 1, visited with county residents Tuesday at Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College.
In addition to the fact that residents are unhealthy, WVU researchers will be studying why — if the grant funding is obtained. Contributing factors could include the rural location, topography, economics, area industries, reduced access to specialized medical care, along with tobacco use and physical inactivity, among other risk factors.
That data, in turn, could be used to improve the health of state and county residents, Ducatman emphasized.
“We are improving, just not as much as other states,” Ducatman said of the state’s health.
Additionally, if the population’s health improves, more businesses and industries may look at the area more favorably, he noted. That could improve the area economy in time, he said.
Students will be trained to be actively involved in communities, he said. In turn, the school’s graduates will be able to “change the profile of risk factors” which contribute to overall bad health of the state’s population and improve the state’s statistics, he told the small group.
Already, the staff has been involved in the Governor’s Substance Abuse Council and provided ATV accident data to legislators, along with data on secondhand smoke in the workplace.
Ducatman emphasized the researchers’ goal will be to collect data.
“Society doesn’t always agree about that data,” he said.
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Judge Warren McGraw said several of the residents in his neighborhood suffer from autoimmune disorders. He wondered if that would warrant a study.
“That’s known as a disease cluster,” Ducatman explained.
Although some disease clusters lead to new discoveries, that doesn’t happen often, Ducatman emphasized.
And anything can be studied — if the funding is available, Ducatman said.
“The (studies) we do, somebody has asked us to do,” he explained.
Commissioner Larry Mathis voiced his concern about the high cancer rate in the county and mentioned chemicals left in abandoned mines that could have made it into the water supply.
Ducatman said even the most sophisticated water treatment systems aren’t usually equipped to eliminate chemicals used in industry.
Dale Stewart, chairman of the Wyoming County Convention and Visitors Bureau, questioned if any of the grant money would go toward solving the health problems.
Although there are numerous studies, very little of the funding ever goes toward solving the problem, Ducatman said.
About 0.7 cent of every study dollar goes toward prevention and improvement, he explained.
Basically, the new university school will “train the kids and go for the grants,” Ducatman said.
Several of those students are, and will be, from Wyo-ming County, he noted.
He said WVU has already brought in federal dollars that usually have gone to Harvard and other leading universities.
“We’re bringing those federal dollars into West Virginia,” he said.http://www.register-herald.com/local/x1561301760/WVU-School-of-Public-Health-plans-study