West Virginia Disability Rate Tied to Bad Habits

September 9, 2010

A state lawmaker attributes West Virginia’s high rate of disabled workers to smoking and other poor health habits.

Sen. Dan Foster, D-Kanawha, told the Charleston Daily Mail that the state’s high smoking and obesity rates contribute to other health issues, including diabetes, chronic lung disease, congestive heart failure and cancer.

An August report by the Social Security Administration said more than 5 percent of West Virginia’s population is considered as disabled workers, the highest percentage in the nation.

“We have an unhealthy population,” Foster said. “We have the highest percentage of people with chronic disabilities, whether that’s disabilities that are incurred in the workplace or related to chronic diseases that have occurred because of unhealthy habits of one sort or another.”

Foster said changing behaviors isn’t easy. But there are steps the state could take to improve residents’ health, such as raising the cigarette tax and providing better education about nutrition and exercise.

Another factor is the economy. A report released in July by the Congressional Budget Office said that when jobs are plentiful, some people who could qualify for disability choose to work. When jobs are scarce, some of those people turn to the disability program.

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