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Psychiatrist: Reality Show Might Be Wake-Up Call for 'Fat City'

If folks in Huntington, W. Va., aren't happy that their hometown is being called the Fattest City in America -- and that a celebrity chef is hosting a reality show all about them -- then they can get off their sizable butts and do something about it, says psychiatrist Keith Ablow.

Some of Huntington’s residents say they are wary of British chef Jamie Oliver, especially after reading that he said residents he’d met there lacked information about healthy eating and cooking from scratch.

Some residents say they are concerned that Huntington will become the poster child for problems like obesity and lack of exercise.

But, Ablow says, “The reality show aside, it’s reasonable to highlight towns and cities in the United States that need to do more to promote well-being.

“We have a vigorous debate right now on how to insure Americans, so people need to take more of a responsibility for their health.”

Ablow, a FOX News contributor, said Huntington residents are justified in not wanting to be called names or seen as inattentive to health issues. But he advised them to embrace their moment.

“My basic advice is to join forces with the forward momentum of saying, ‘We’re going to be the most improved area in the country in terms of fitness levels, and we have a three-year plan to do so,’ and then get every public official on board,” said Ablow, who has never visited Huntington.

Cabell-Huntington Health Department Director Dr. Harry Tweel said he was worried that Oliver's show would focus on the negative and not on the efforts to improve residents' health.

Part of the sensitivity, Tweel said, comes from the perception that people in the region weren't aware of the serious health problems many residents face.

"People are just anxious about getting a fair shake," he said.

Like others, Tweel is optimistic the show can have benefits for the region by drawing attention to healthier lifestyles.

“Being overweight without energy, and suffering from the physical manifestation – like having diseases such as diabetes – is often the reflection of underlying issues, like depression, which should not be ignored,” Ablow said.

Obesity and related illnesses are so common in West Virginia that the extent of the problem has been easy to ignore, said state Delegate Don Perdue, who represents part of the area covered by the CDC statistics on obesity.

Ablow said he sees no reason why overweight people would be attracted to one particular town or city, so he thinks it must be factors like Huntington’s educational programming or retail food offerings.

“Maybe [those factors] need to be examined," Ablow said. “I don’t know that a reality show is the best way to do that, but maybe it’s a good wakeup call.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article.