Get out. Or at least getup.
In August, state officials and LiveWell Colorado, a non-profit agency, will kick off a month-long program encouraging Colorado residents to take up some kind of regular exercise. To lure residents into good habits, a website asking participants to log in daily and get moving rewards people with T-shirts, hats, drawings for bigger prizes and kudos.
It’s a laudable effort to reverse disturbing news about the health of Colorado residents, and it’s a perfect opportunity to examine how the state needs to do even more.
The story about the health of Colorado residents is good and bad. The good news is, Colorado is consistently held up as the thinnest, healthiest state in country. We are a state known for residents who get outside and walk, bike, hike, ski, run, kayak and stay in motion. Colorado and especially its urban centers are meccas for farmers markets and independent restaurants that regularly offer much healthier fare than national chain eateries. For the most part, this is a place where the cuisine of Paula Deen is seen as amusing rather than essential.
Now for the bad news. Even though Colorado residents have long been thinner and healthier than the rest of the country, that’s changing, and it’s changing fast. Even though the rest of the country is getting fatter and sicker at an even more alarming rate, a growing number of Centennial State residents, especially children, are moving into the overweight and obese categories.
Right here in Aurora, the University of Colorado Anschutz Health and Wellness Center has looked long and hard at how to improve the health of individuals and communities alike. What they’ve found is hardly ground breaking. It’s common sense. Obesity is one of the greatest public health threats — if not the biggest health threat — our country faces. We now know that if Americans were thinner, ate better and were more active, what we spend on health care in this country would be greatly reduced. We’re talking hundreds of billions of dollars in savings.
Experts here and around the globe have shown that small things make a big difference. Rather than get Colorado running triathlons by Christmas, the goal need simply to be to get residents to do something like walk or dance for 30 minutes a day. Just 30 minutes a day. Instead of eating fast food for 10 meals a week, just eat it twice. Instead of gorging on a bag of chips and a liter of soda, eat a handful and drink a mini soda. Small changes can lead to big reductions in weight over time, which lead to improved health through weight loss, which usually leads to increased activity, which leads to even better health. It’s an upward spiral rather than a downward plunge.
But with half of the state moving into the overweight and obese category, it’s time to do more than hold a month-long contest. State lawmakers can act next year in reversing a trend in schools that keep more kids in their seats instead of on the playground or in the gym. Rather than diminish the importance of exercise in public schools, these institutions should be spending even more time requiring children to participate in a wide range of activities, and learn fundamental nutrition strategies that can make huge impacts in their lives.
This isn’t about do-gooders and nannyism, this is about a national crisis that threatens to bankrupt the country, seriously reduce the quality of life for most Americans, and even affect our very security.
For now, it starts with everyone in Aurora and Colorado getting out of their chairs, off the couches and outside to rediscover why this is one of the greatest places to live in the world. To participate in the statewide project, go to getmovinchallenge.org.