The Last Lean Americans

Colorado’s obesity rates are the lowest in the country—but are we really as healthy as we think? Plus: We surveyed 400 Coloradans about their everyday health habits to see how—and why—our state has stayed on the good side of skinny.

October 2010


How would you characterize your outdoor gear collection?
I could easily outfit an expedition to Mt. Everest with gear from my garage: 2 percent
I have the Colorado necessities: mountain bike, skis, snowboard, backpack, CamelBak, tent, fishing rods: 59 percent
I have some hiking boots in a closet somewhere: 22 percent
Gear? What gear?: 17 percent

Do you play outside (hike, throw ball, play tag, etc.) with your kids? Yes, all the time: 26 percent
Yes, when I have time: 58 percent
My kids are more of the video game type: 9 percent
No, I don’t like playing outside: 7 percent

If you are not a Colorado native, did your health habits change after moving here?
Yes: 28 percent
No: 28 percent
I’m a Colorado native: 44 percent

What activities or habits have you changed since moving to Colorado? (more than one response was allowed) Less TV viewing: 42 percent

Eating better: 77 percent

Less alcohol consumption: 21 percent

Exercising more: 82 percent
None of the above: 6 percent

Have you ever climbed a fourteener?
Yes: 30 percent
No: 67 percent
Tried but didn’t summit: 3 percent

Do you own any of the following? (more than one response was allowed)
A heart rate monitor: 20 percent
A pedometer: 46 percent
A mobile GPS (for running or hiking or cycling): 16 percent
A wet suit (for triathlons): 3 percent
More than one bicycle: 31 percent
Tele skis: 1 percent
A power meter (for cycling): 3 percent
None of the above: 34 percent

High Altitude, Low Weight

A few reasons why Colorado isn't tipping the scale.

Although there’s never been a study that researched why Coloradans are slimmer than the rest of the country, experts point to the following potential reasons why Colorado has fared better than other states.

The weather With at least 300 days of sunshine annually, generally low humidity, and relatively moderate temperatures year-round, our population has the opportunity to get outside more so than folks in cities in, say, South Carolina (hot!), Michigan (humid!), or South Dakota (cold!).

Our geography The call of the Rocky Mountains is difficult to ignore. And once you’ve heeded the call, you’re likely doing something active, whether it’s hiking, cycling, skiing, or snowshoeing. Plus, outdoor-loving transplants move from all over the country to Colorado to play in our hills, which means we’re drawing active people inside our borders.

The altitude Some researchers believe our low-oxygen environment may affect our weight. Not only is low oxygen an appetite suppressant, but it also increases metabolism.

Our culture The hippie-dippie, organic food–eating, communing-with-nature stereotype we all kinda hate probably does have something to do with our trim waistlines. If your co-workers are running marathons on the weekend and having organic tofu and iced green tea for lunch, it’s a lot harder to justify the 64-ounce soda and half-pound burger with bacon and cheese after a weekend of channel surfing.