Kentucky town of Manchester illustrates national obesity crisis

In Kentucky's unhealthiest county, residents such as Scott Robinson and his daughters Carlin and Britney, are among the ranks of overweight citizens who are not taking action about their health.
By Wil Haygood
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 12, 2010

MANCHESTER, KY. -- The beautiful thing about this little town, the locals will tell you, is that everyone seems to know everyone. Where the children go to school, where the parents work. Who's engaged to be married, who's joining the military.

How Britney and Carlin -- those would be Scott Robinson's girls -- are doing in school.

Quite well, thank you.

"I just got my report card the other day. Wanna see it?" asks a smiling Carlin, 12. She shows off a row of A's. She's standing in her back yard, high on a hill overlooking a valley below.

Carlin Robinson is a large little girl.

The people of Manchester take for granted knowing one another. "You never run into a stranger here," says Britney, Carlin's older sister.

Britney Robinson, 20, is a very large young woman.

Britney and Carlin: two sweet small-town girls, the pride of their dad.

Scott Robinson, 47, is a very large man.

The residents of this town of 2,100 -- 95 miles southeast of Lexington and deep in the Appalachian foothills -- indeed appear to celebrate the joys of community closeness. The bake sales, the volunteering. But it's what goes uncelebrated, and even ignored, here that has become Manchester's defining feature: In an increasingly unhealthy country, it is one of the unhealthiest places of all.

The national obesity rate for adults is 24 percent; in Manchester and surrounding Clay County, it's been estimated to be as high as 52 percent. In a study of the healthiness of Kentucky's 120 counties, Clay County ranked dead last, with 41 percent of the population classified as in poor or fair health.

In Washington recently, first lady Michelle Obama presided over the unveiling of findings from an obesity task force. Highlights that she presented from the three-month study only deepened what many had come to fear: The number of overweight children is rising; there are not enough places to buy nutritious food in small towns; many places lack recreational venues.

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