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Colorado Is the Least Obese State—But Not the Healthiest

A local doc breaks down why.

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Last week, United Health Foundation ranked Colorado as the least obese state. While this isn’t quite news, the fact that the region is only the eighth healthiest state when other factors are considered—such as the prevalence of diseases like whooping cough—sort of is. We sat down with Dr. James O. Hill, executive director of the University of Colorado Anschutz Health and Wellness Center at the Anschutz Medical Campus and co-author of the weight-loss book State of Slim, to see what Coloradans are doing right—and where we still have room to improve.

OUR STRENGTHS

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  1. Active Culture: Around the time the obesity epidemic started in the 1970s, it’s likely that Colorado’s active lifestyle began to attract even more healthy people.
  2. How We Hang Out: Not every get-together revolves around food. “People are organizing social events around moving, rather than eating,” Hill says. “That’s something the rest of the country can learn from.”
  3. The Awesome Climate: Very few days are miserable in this sunny state, so it makes it easy to get outside, whether you’re hiking in the summer or skiing in the winter.
  4. Our Morning Routine: Exercise is high on our to-do lists—so much so that it’s often one of our first thoughts of the day. “A lot of people in Colorado get up in the morning and think, How am I going to get my activity today?” Hill says.

OUR WEAKNESSES

  1. Our Rate is Rising: The Centennial State may be the least obese, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a problem. At least one in five Coloradans qualify as obese, and that number is rising quickly; we’re only 10 to 15 years behind Mississippi, the heaviest state in the nation.
  2. The Generational Gap: Colorados kids aren’t as healthy as its adults. “When we grew up, we didn’t have a computer or 100 channels of TV,” Hill says. “The environment has changed in such a way to make it easier for children to overeat and not be physically active.”
  3. That Persistent Cough: As of November 15, there were 1,161 current cases of whooping cough in the Centennial State. The state health department announced an “outbreak” (more than 1,000 cases of a disease) more than two years ago, but the number hasn’t come down to a safe level, perhaps due in part to higher-than-average vaccine-refusal rates.
  4. The Downside of Craft Beer: Colorado boasts more than 200 breweries, which is great news for ale aficionados—but not for their livers. The state is the 11th worst place for binge drinking, which puts a bit of a handicap on our otherwise healthy systems.

Follow editorial assistant Mary Clare Fischer on Twitter at @mc_fischer.

Mary Clare Fischer, Assistant Editor

Mary Clare Fischer co-edits 5280’s Compass, Adventure, and Culture sections; writes for multiple sections of the magazine; and blogs weekly about health and wellness for 5280.com.

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