Josh Bollwahn runs up the seats in the Red Rocks Amphitheater with his dog Susie in July 2011.
Josh Bollwahn runs up the seats in the Red Rocks Amphitheater with his dog Susie in July 2011. (Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post, File)

The health status of many Coloradans is weighed down by expanding obesity challenges, with bleak prospects for public spending to attack the problems, according to a top foundation's annual "health report card."

In the Colorado Health Foundation's five measures of overall citizen wellness, one reading fell, another rose slightly and three stayed flat from the year before, foundation researchers said.

Colorado needs to stop patting itself on the back about being the thinnest state, the researchers noted.

Although we remain the slimmest in the nation, Coloradans are quickly joining Americans with ballooning waistlines — the 22-percent state obesity rate would have made it the fattest in the nation as recently as 1995.

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"For a state often regarded as the 'leanest' and 'most active' in the country, Colorado falls short by many important health measures," said the foundation report, which has tracked key state factors since 2006.

The report crunches statistics including immunization rates, percentages of uninsured, smoking and childhood cavity levels. This year's analysis shows Colorado doing about the same for infants and slightly better for children, in part through more getting shots and fewer going without insurance.

While the state held even on adolescent and adult health, it did worse in "healthy aging," in part because the elderly appear to be slipping in both physical and mental activity, and for too many lacking a "medical home" with one coordinating doctor.


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In presenting its findings, the foundation repeatedly hammered weight gain and bad food issues, calling for an acceleration in better nutrition efforts by both public and private advocates.

"The country's food distribution system is geared toward obesity," said foundation vice president Charles Reyman.

A fitness club member reads while using a Life Cycle.
A fitness club member reads while using a Life Cycle. ( Denver Post file photo)

The foundation has spotlighted questionable marketing efforts and lobbying victories by big food companies as enablers in the obesity slide. Some nutrition experts and public-health researchers are calling for limits on marketing sugar- and fat-laden food to kids, and for soda taxes that would discourage over-consumption.

Foundation officials acknowledged that improving state health grades will be tough when public budgets are so strained.

Many health promotions save money in the long run by preventing expensive illness.

"We can make a financial, value-based argument to do these things," said Michele Lueck of the Colorado Health Institute, which sorts the numbers for the foundation.

But the savings don't always come back to the spenders. A private employer might not see a payback on employee wellness programs until that employee is retired and on Medicare; state Medicaid spending for prevention might save a private hospital or a school system money, but not the state budget.

Michael Booth: 303-954-1686, mbooth@denverpost.com, twitter.com/MboothDP


Watch Colorado grow:

A video based on maps from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows how the obesity rates in Colorado and other states have grown over the years. Find it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2mWsv1-HN6w