Life in Emporia, Virginia, feels a little slower, calmer, and more personal than in the bustling DC suburb of Fairfax that lies just a three-hour drive away. But it's a lifestyle that comes at a cost for the town's women: In affluent Fairfax County, the life expectancy for women is 84; in Greensville County, it's only 75, giving Virginia the widest longevity gap of any state. How did a quaint area, complete with an annual fest in honor of the cocktail peanut, find itself in such a state? Pervasive smoking and obesity, the Los Angeles Times finds.
Though the tobacco fields that blanketed the region are largely gone, the habit has stuck around—the region's smoking rate is higher than that of the rest of the state and the country. The tradition of fried chicken, potatoes, and other Southern dishes that happen to be unhealthy hasn't budged, either. Stopping by the local diner provides a window into the town: On her break, a 33-year-old waitress smokes and snacks on an order of onion rings. She has no health insurance, and says diabetes killed her parents at ages 54 and 57. There used to be a Curves gym across the street, but it closed. Many have watched their parents and friends battle cancer or heart disease. Some eat healthier and smoke fewer cigarettes as a result; others are unwilling to change.