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Southern culture among factors for county's unhealthy ranking

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A recent study by the University of Wisconsin shows South Carolina's Marion county is the least healthiest in the state. But Marion County is known for more than its health statistics.

According to statistics, Marion County is not only the state's unhealthy county, it also has the highest unemployment rate and it's known as one of the poorest.

"We're probably too healthy, probably eat too much, and don't do enough exercise," said retired salesman Carol Harrelson, who was working out in a gym Thursday.

He's half right. Some say life in South Carolina's unhealthiest county is steeped in southern tradition.

"Southern culture is centered around food. Soul southern food," said Frederick Gause with Champion Martial Arts. "Most of the restaurants here are going to be fast food chains or buffet."

But it's not all tradition that's taking a toll on the health of Marion County citizens. The area has also been on an economic downswing.

"There's low population there, and just not a whole lot of development," said University of South Carolina research economist Joseph Von Nessen. "It's lacking a lot of that infrastructure and a lot of those factors that businesses need to locate there."

That high unemployment rate leads to cheaper food choices and higher health care costs.

"From a health care standpoint we see a lot of diabetes, congestive heart failure, obesity," said Director of Rehabilitation John Estevez."

It's a community attitude Gause said has passed down from one generation to the next.

"We didn't see our parents do a lot of exercise or involved in those activities. They're thinking of mere survival, how they're going to pay rent," said Gause.

But for young and old, a new attitude is developing out of a bad reputation.

"One black belt at a time. One family at a time," Gause said.

In an effort to raise the physical activity level of its citizens, the City of Marion is sponsoring various activities including ping pong, senior aerobics and yoga.

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