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Colorado: Working to Stay Number One

Colorado: Working to Stay Number One

Colorado may have the nation’s lowest adult obesity rate, but that rate isn’t budging - resting above 20 percent for the past four years. And while our state’s physical activity rate also ranks as the nation’s best, it is stubbornly stagnant as well.

Colorado will need to shake things up if it intends to stay ahead of the pack.

The newly-released The State of Obesity, a project of the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, shines a spotlight on how states are doing when it comes to tackling the challenge of obesity.

Colorado had an adult obesity rate of 21.3 percent in 2014, the most recent available data, which was the lowest in the country. But Colorado’s rate stood at just 6.9 percent in 1990. By 1995, Colorado’s rate topped 10 percent. And it has climbed steadily ever since, first topping 20 percent in 2011.

Still, other states are posting even bigger increases in obesity. Rates of obesity now top 35 percent in three states ­- Arkansas, West Virginia and Mississippi, the report shows. Arkansas has the highest rate at 35.9 percent.

Trailing Colorado for the lowest rate are the District of Columbia at 21.7 percent, Hawaii at 22.1 percent, Massachusetts at 23.3 percent and California at 24.7 percent.

Meanwhile, 16.4 percent of Coloradans said they had not engaged in any physical activity or exercise outside of their regular jobs in the 30 days before the survey. That was the nation’s lowest rate of physical inactivity, followed by Oregon, Utah, Washington and Idaho. Mississippi was the least active, with a physical inactivity rate at 31.6 percent.

Colorado’s nation-leading physical activity rate is translating into healthier outcomes than in many other states. For example, 7.3 percent of Coloradans had diabetes in 2014, second lowest after Utah. But Colorado’s rate has more than doubled from 3.1 percent in 1990. If current trends continue, an estimated 519,000 Coloradans will have diabetes in 2030, up from 333,000 in 2010.

Colorado’s hypertension rate stood at 26.3 percent, again second best in the nation after Utah, but an increase of nearly 10 percentage points since 1990. Assuming current trends, the number of Coloradans with hypertension will reach 1.2 million in 2030, up from 847,000 in 2010.

There are other worrisome trends in Colorado. One of 10 Colorado children between the ages of 2 and 4 from low-income families were obese in 2011, according to the report. That still managed to place Colorado second among the 41 states and the District of Columbia reporting the statistic, but the percentage has climbed here from 8.7 percent in 2002.

Colorado’s obesity rate for children between ages 10 and 17 stood at 10.9 percent in 2011, fifth best. The good news is this rate has trended down since 2007, when it was 14.2 percent.

Colorado’s kids aren’t exactly working up a sweat, which may be part of the reason for the obesity numbers. Colorado has no statewide requirement for physical education classes, and only requires 30 minutes of physical activity per day for elementary students.

Only three in five Colorado middle school students say they attend at least one PE class per week, according to the Healthy Kids Colorado survey. Only 34 percent say they are physically active for at least an hour daily.

High school students are even less active: About one in four (26.4 percent) say they are active for at least an hour daily.

But Colorado is trying to step up its game. On September 16, Governor John Hickenlooper announced a $100 million, four-year plan to make Colorado “the best state for biking.”  

That budget includes $10 million for Colorado’s Safe Routes to School program, providing a shot in the arm after state funding was not renewed this year. That had ended new Safe Routes to School grants to schools and districts.

The governor has set aside $2 million annually for construction projects to make walking and biking safer and $500,000 a year for non-infrastructure projects, such as Walk/Bike to School Day activities, educational events and promotional materials.

Meanwhile, Reaching Our Peak — a new publication from the Colorado Health Institute — analyzes Colorado’s progress in policies, programs and initiatives aimed at increasing physical activity in Colorado, among a wide range of health activities.