Steamboat Springs Routt County is the leanest county in what continues to be the leanest state.
But health care professionals are worried about what they consider to be a disturbing trend. In spite of Colorado’s status as the leanest state, its residents are becoming obese at an alarming rate.
According to “F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future,” Colorado has lost a lot of ground in recent years. The report from the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation was released in July.
“Fifteen years ago, Colorado had an obesity rate of 10.7 percent and was ranked second least obese state in the nation,” a news release announcing the report stated. “The obesity rate in Colorado increased more than 80 percent over the last 15 years.”
According to the report, Colorado’s obesity rate is 19.8 percent. Add in the number of Colorado adults who are considered overweight, and that figure balloons to 56.2 percent. The report rankings are based on combining 2008 and 2010 data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.
Barb Parnell, community coordinator for LiveWell Northwest Colorado, struggles with the word “lean.” She said when 20 percent of a state’s adults and more than 15 percent of its children are considered obese, that’s not lean.
Instead, Parnell said the state is becoming part of a larger problem.
“We’re part of all the rest of the states that are overweight and obese,” she said. “It’s really an epidemic in our country.”
According to “F as in Fat,” Colorado’s current obesity rate would have been the highest in the country in 1995. It’s not just a problem in Colorado. Mississippi boasts the highest obesity rate at 34.4 percent. It’s one of 12 states with an obesity rate higher than 30 percent.
And the report, which includes Washington, D.C., indicated that at least one in four adults in 38 states are obese.
In Routt County, the number of obese adults is even lower than the state rate. According to county-level estimates of obesity from the CDC, 11.5 percent of county residents were obese in 2008, the most recent data available.
Roberta Gill, a registered dietician with the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, said the abundance of recreational activities for all ages, emphasis on nutrition and access to quality health care has kept county residents fit.
“All of those things contribute to the fact that I think we’re lucky to live in a location that allows us to have this obesity level, to come in under the radar,” she said.
But Gill also acknowledged that things have changed locally in the past 20 years. She said adults and children are more sedentary.
The VNA created LiveWell Northwest Colorado to receive and allocate grant funding from Denver nonprofit LiveWell Colorado. The grant funding is used to promote exercise and healthy eating among adults and children in the county.
Parnell said 13 to 33 percent of Routt County children are obese.
LiveWell has funded programs in the Steamboat Springs, Hayden and South Routt school districts that make it easier for schools to offer healthier lunch choices and give teachers tools to incorporate physical activity in their classrooms.
Parnell said LiveWell’s newest effort is Let’s Go! 5-2-1-0, which promotes daily habits. The numbers are designed to help people remember to eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables, spend two fewer hours in front of the TV or computer, get at least one hour of physical activity and consume zero sugary drinks while drinking more water and low-fat milk.
Parnell said information was sent home with students and put in local public and private employee newsletters.
The 5-2-1-0 message is about small steps, Parnell said. She said whether that was adding a serving of fruits or vegetables a day or 10 minutes of physical activity, it makes a difference.
“We want to prevent obesity or help people maintain a healthy weight,” she said. “We know that obesity is related to other diseases. It’s a national epidemic. We want to address it now in Colorado before this becomes more of an issue.”
National obesity percentage
To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com