Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to Alamosa and the San Luis Valley. I co-presented the results of the annual Colorado Health Report Card with Chuck Reyman and the team from the Colorado Health Foundation.
Here in Denver, we hear a lot about the San Luis Valley. But its beauty – a wide valley surrounded by pristine mountains – belies many health challenges. The agriculture-based economy results in a significantly low-income, transient population.
Several of the attendees commented that while the valley produces so much agriculture (from melons to tilapia farms), nearly all of the produce is shipped away. Very little is consumed locally. The population of the valley is also in poor health – BMI measures and lack of physical activity are among the highest in the state. Coincidence? A growing body of evidence suggests not.
The health outcomes of the valley mirror the state overall. We are becoming more obese – a significant measure of the current and future health of our state. Given all that we do to improve our health, it’s sometimes difficult to fight off the disappointment that the Report Card indicates. We are investing in programs and services to become the healthiest state in the nation, and our scores are middling at best.
But here’s the good news. My trip to the San Luis Valley was optimistic and encouraging. Alamosa is wrapping up a seven-year LiveWell grant. The community has come together to become healthy in almost uncountable ways. From breast-feeding programs to a Healthy Living Park, from school-based gardens to workplace wellness programs, the community has worked in concert to promote healthier lifestyles. It has tackled the social determinants of health head-on.
We cannot let our frustration outweigh our patience. Changing lifestyle behaviors and other social determinants of health – education and poverty, to name two – take years and generations to change. I left Alamosa with renewed energy. We are on the right track, Colorado. Let’s give these investments the time it takes to make a difference.