A Tale of Two Cities: Fattest and Fittest Towns in America

Meet families in W.Va. and Vt. towns at opposite ends of the health spectrum.

ByABC News
February 19, 2009, 12:58 PM

Feb. 19, 2009— -- America's battle of the bulge is being fought to very different ends in two seemingly similar towns.

Huntington, W.Va. and Burlington, Vt. are both midsize college towns with similar median incomes, but a report by the CDC said that this is a tale of two cities at the opposite ends of the health spectrum.

Based on health data gathered by the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, the Associated Press compiled the numbers and declared a winner and a loser: Burlington, Vt. took honors in the AP report for being the healthiest city in America. Huntington, W.Va., a town of 50,000 by the Ohio River, earned the dubious distinction of being named the least healthy city in America.

In categories measuring obesity, diabetes, heart disease and tooth loss, Huntington consistently came up short in the CDC's numbers.

The town's residents are not happy with the results. Many are angry that their hometown was singled out. But the members of Christ Temple Church took that dubious distinction as a challenge.

To make a point, the church choir stepped on the scales at a local truck stop and weighed in at 10,590 pounds. They challenged themselves to lose the excess weight -- almost a ton, by their estimate -- literally.

In Burlington, Vt., on the other hand, a quick walk around town tells a different story.

"I don't see much [obesity] at all. Not in the schools, not in the shopping malls if I get to one," said Katharine Montstream, 47, an artist and mother of three. "When I go to another part of the country I'm a little surprised sometimes."

It's not hard to see why. Even in the middle of winter, on a February day with the thermometer topping out at two degrees, Burlington was full of walkers, runners, even cyclers.

"You've got to get out there otherwise you get cabin fever. You've seen 'The Shining,' right?" Montstream said, laughing.

She and her family are exercise enthusiasts. Her husband, Alan Dworchak, is a ski coach. Their teenage son and daughter are ski champions. Even on that frigid day, Montstream and youngest daughter Sylvie went to the local golf course for a cross-country ski outing.

Winter in Huntington, however, can be a different story. On a day when the temperature was a full 30 degrees warmer than its northern counterpart, Michelle Isenberg and her family tried to avoid the cold.

Isenberg, 41, a wife and mother of three who home-schools her oldest son, Michael, said her first thought when she heard about the study was, "Yep, that's it. That's us."

"I like to run, I like to ride my bike, my scooter," Michael Isenberg said, but added, "It's too cold."

He said that in winter, the whole family will occasionally work out to a video game called TurboJam, but that his main exercise on days when he can't go outside is bouncing on a mini trampoline indoors.