May 4, 2007

You know you're a redneck, if you have heart disease

"Does the higher incidence of obesity come from the traditional Appalachian Sunday dinner, or is it from the spread of convenience stores and fast food in the last 25 years?" that's the question a two-day conference is trying to answer.

USA Today reports, doctors, lawmakers and specialists hope to launch a public health network in 13 states to change one of the stark facts of Appalachian life: Residents are 20% more likely to die from heart disease than the rest of the country.

The task won't be easy. States in Appalachia lead the country in heart disease risk factors such as smoking, obesity and lack of exercise, and those factors could partly come from long-held cultural practices and beliefs.

That's why the two-day conference that began Thursday includes historians, who can explain the unique characteristics of the region that stretches from Mississippi into upstate New York, including parts of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and all of West Virginia.

Four of the five states with the highest rates of common heart conditions are in Appalachia, according to the CDC. West Virginia is the highest in the country, with about 10.4% of adults reporting a common heart condition such as coronary heart disease, compared to a national average of about 6.5%.

Four Appalachian states also rank in the top five for the highest rate of cardiovascular disease-related deaths, according to the American Heart Association, which also sponsored the conference. While researchers have known that for years, they still don't have a good explanation for it.

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