May I have the envelope please?
Yes, people, we have a winner. Colorado has officially been crowned the winner (Miss America?) of the obesity epidemic. Cue the tears.
I had planned to write part two of my love/hate gym post today, but when I saw the front page of The Denver Post this morning, I scrapped that plan. You’ll just have to spend the weekend in suspense of my gym critique. Hard to do, I know. The headline that changed my plans?
“Plumped-up Colo. still the least obese”
According to the most recent report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Colorado has the lowest obesity rate of any state in the U.S. Seems like a good thing, right? Don’t forget about the “Plumped-up” part of the headline, though. That’s where the real story is. According to statistics cited in the article, in the past 15 years nearly twice as many residents have hit the obesity mark. “Colorado’s relatively low rate of obesity in this year’s report would have made it the nation’s fattest state in 1995,” according to a foundation researcher. Did you catch the word, “relatively?” We’re the skinniest of the fat! In fact, Colorado was the only state with an obesity rate under 20 percent, and then just barely (19.8 percent).
That means almost 20 percent of us have a body-mass index (BMI) of 30 or more. When you combine that with those with a BMI of 25 or more (an overweight classification), the figure jumps to 56.2 percent. Over half of the people in Colorado weigh too much. And we are the thinnest. Let that sink in for a minute.
Check out these graphics from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website.
Kind of staggering, isn’t it? “Being first in a race where everyone’s losing is nothing to be proud of,” said Chris Lindley, director of prevention services for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Couldn’t have said it better myself, Chris. Lindley went on to say, “We’re pursuing this health challenge as if the future of Colorado depends on it because it does.”
Unfortunately, that couldn’t be more true. The article continued on another page with the headline,
“More children in Colo. are joining the ranks of the chunky”
According to local health officials, the rate of obese children in Colorado is growing faster than in most other states. So how can that be? We have more fit, healthy adults than any other state, but our children are some of the “chunkiest?” I think one clue is in that word. Chunky might be a kinder, more sensitive word for obese, but we do our children no favors by using it to describe a dangerous health trend. The harsh truth is that many of our kids are overweight, and I don’t believe I’m exaggerating when I say that our inability to call it what it is, could ruin their lives.
Another result of this widening of America is that societal norms have changed. We are so used to seeing overweight people, and accommodating their larger girth (bigger cars, roomier seats at the movies, more leg room on planes), that it seems normal to us. Of course there should be room for many different body types in our culture, but that does not mean we should embrace overweight as a culture.
So what do we do now? Anyone who has struggled to lose weight knows it’s not easy. There is no quick fix, no magic pill. Once the weight is on and an unhealthy lifestyle the norm, change is extremely difficult. That’s why the alarming rate of childhood obesity is so frightening, and why children are where we need to focus our efforts for a solution. As our kids grow, we have the beautiful opportunity to teach them good habits. We can give them such a gift by making healthy choices simple and natural. I have kids; I know saying no to candy and soda isn’t always the easy and popular choice. As they get older, kids fight it, and it can even make you seem like a snob to other parents. But I believe it’s what we must do in order to start moving America in a healthier, happier direction. As Khanh Nguyen, senior program officer for the Healthy Living program at the Colorado Health Foundation said, “We need to do better in growing our own children.”
Obviously I feel very passionately about this complex and emotional topic. There’s no simple answer, but I’m curious about other opinions. Is there another side to this story? Do I need to get off my soapbox? Come on, people, let’s start talking!