Kelly Dunkin is vice president of Philanthropy for the Colorado Health Foundation.
Coloradans have plenty to be concerned about during National Obesity Awareness Month. Though the Trust for Public Health ranks Colorado as the "leanest" state in the nation, our bragging rights pretty much end there. In fact, our adult obesity is growing faster than many other states – nearly doubling since 1990.
Meanwhile, fewer than one-quarter of Colorado adults consumed the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables a day – making the state simply "average" compared to the rest of the country in terms of eating healthy food. That's according to the 2010 Colorado Health Report Card.
Worse, the Report Card also showed Colorado's rank for childhood obesity dropped from No. 3 in 2003 to No. 23 in 2007 – with 14 percent of Colorado's children classified as obese. These dire statistics impact Coloradans in ways that threaten their long-term, overall health – not to mention the state's economic health. One report shows the cost of obesity in Colorado is estimated at $874 million a year. We're also among only four states in the country where physical education is not required.
Fortunately, while Colorado's reputation as a "healthy" state is dubious at best, we've genuinely earned a reputation for innovation and pioneering spirit.
By collaborating with groundbreaking nonprofits and advocacy groups, the Colorado Health Foundation is working to make Colorado the healthiest state in the nation. That includes efforts to curb the state's obesity rate – particularly among children.
Here are just a few ways we are fighting the obesity epidemic:
Because Colorado is only one of two states that does not require physical education, the Foundation supported legislation (later approved by Colorado's General Assembly and Gov. John Hickenlooper) to establish a standard requiring public elementary schools to reserve time for "physical activity" in each student's schedule.
Also in schools, we support serving healthy beverages, snacks and meals, along with providing comprehensive health education and health care services. For example, the Foundation provides funding for a school-based health center in Cortez in rural western Colorado. School-based health centers are an effective strategy for ensuring that students who otherwise might not have access can get physical and mental health care.
We are collaborating with our partners to make school food healthier. Last year, we awarded a grant to one of our key grantees, LiveWell Colorado, to coordinate and implement four summer culinary "boot camps" for school food service staff, "lunch teachers" across the state to teach them how to prepare healthy meals from scratch. One such effort (in the Greeley-Evans School District) recently garnered attention in The New York Times and received accolades from First Lady Michelle Obama.
Targeting food deserts that lack easy access to fresh fruit and produce, we look at the environment where kids and their families live and play as a factor in promoting good health. We support access to healthy foods such as increasing fruits and vegetable offerings at corner markets or helping neighborhoods get a supermarket. We fund projects that increase safe options for play and physical activities. For example, the Foundation is partnering with other nonprofit organizations, community leaders and businesses to transform a vacant lot in east Denver into a soccer field, playground and expanded community garden. Once completed, Denver's low-income Westerly Creek neighborhood will have safe, quality recreational space along with a source of fresh fruits and vegetables. The Westerly Creek project is one of dozens of similar projects throughout Colorado that aim to make communities more conducive to good health.
Even with great ideas and proven concepts in Colorado and elsewhere, the obesity epidemic is a statewide, nationwide and international problem that will require attention from just about everyone. Additionally, Colorado and the rest of the nation can do a better job training health care professionals on prevention and community health issues.
But the first step in fighting a problem is recognizing you have one. Fortunately, a growing number of Coloradans understand what's at stake in the obesity epidemic. More importantly, they're doing something about it.