How a State Lost Weight

Could be all that sunshine (300 days a year); ideal temps (not too hot, not too cold); easy access to the rugged Rockies (hike, bike, ski, ice climb, anyone?), but once again, Colorado weighs in as the slimmest state in the nation, with an adult obesity rate of 18.4 percent, according to a report released in August from the Trust for America’s Health.

It’s not surprising that Colorado is the only state where less than 20 percent of adults are obese, as the culture of fitness is as much a part of its identity as the great outdoors. And, because of its super-active, slim-and-trim reputation, super-active, slim-and-trim-types are drawn here.

Same goes for the rest of the West which, of course, fares far better in the obesity battle than does, say, the fried-food-lovin’ South.

Still, as Colorado’s population increases and demographics change, it’s clinging like a kid to a cookie jar to its status — as, sadly, even this stereotypically superhero state is getting fatter. And fatter. Like all of America, where not one state saw a decrease in obesity rates in 2008 and a whopping two-thirds of adults are considered overweight.

Yeah, snooze news at this point. We’ve all heard the stats and they’re utterly depressing. You can read more (and weep) at www. — or … you can get off the couch and get moving.

Moving. Not running a marathon or climbing El Cap or riding a century, but, simply, putting one foot in front of the other. You know, walking. Arguably the most underrated form of physical activity, yet judging from the growing popularity of a program called America on the Move (AOM) — founded by Dr. James Hill at the University of Colorado in 2002, which has since spread to at least a dozen other states — it’s the easiest way to get in shape.

AOM’s rules are simple: (1) Increase the number of steps you take each day by 2,000 and (2) Slash 100 calories, any calories, from your daily diet. Sounds doable, huh?

Community to copy: Broomfield, Colorado

Just a half-hour from almost annoyingly buff Boulder, the typical suburban town of Broomfield (population 45,000) is anything but. Home to shopping malls and multiple McDonalds, new construction and nail salons, Broomfield’s obesity rate hovers around the state average. The Rocky Mountains loom in the distance, not conveniently outside folks’ front doors. And most residents will tell you that their lives — with work, families, carpools — are often too busy to bother working out. (Sound familiar?)

But, Broomfield is better off than most American suburbs — with an extensive trail network linking surrounding towns, a strong sense of community, and that shared Colorado mentality where people want to be active, even if they’re not.

All of which is why a program like America on the Move — which was jumpstarted here last year by grant money and full-time coordinators Candice Smith and Shawn Gorman — has been able to take off. “Our goal is to get the community physically involved and active,” says Smith. “Not just hand people a brochure that they’ll stuff in a drawer.”

So far they’re succeeding. Why? “It’s all about making small changes,” says Dr. Hill. “You don’t have to turn your life upside down. Everybody can do this. It just takes small steps — literally.”

Sounds a little like a late-night Infomercial, but, well, Suzanne Somers can be kinda convincing.

Responding to ads in the local newspaper and flyers posted around town, the first AOM “challenge” drew 70 people; the next one 370; and, this past fall, even more. Participants range in age from 13 to 88 — stay-at-home moms and couples with their cocker spaniels, retired ministers and pizza parlor employees.

Everyone meets up at the commons for community walks — with water bottles, dogs, baby strollers, in tow. They say hello, pick up a spare pedometer, and start walking, chatting with whomever they fall into step, often swapping phone numbers by evening’s end. There are free nutritional cooking classes at the rec center, weekly weigh-ins, cholestrol screenings, salsa lessons, even parking signs posted around town letting locals know how many steps it is to the front door.

Soon, folks from the smoothie shop are walking together after work and supplying fruity incentives for the group from the hair salon. An outdoorsy wife inspires her obese husband to lose 40 pounds. One woman starts walking to avoid going on medication, drops her cholesterol by 50 points, and within a year goes from doing absolutely nothing to triathlons.

“Living in Colorado, you feel proud,” says 30-year-old accountant, mother of two, and AOM participant Amanda Smith. “Proud to live in the fittest state, surrounded by fit people. But sometimes, I look at these really fit people biking by and think, ‘What do I need to do to be a part of it?”

Well, today, Smith, who has so far lost 32 pounds, hops rather than hides at the chance to play with her kids at the playground. She watches what she eats for the first time in her life. At work, she takes the elevator rather than the stairs, parks her car at the far end of the parking lot, and files papers herself as an excuse to get up from her desk rather than asking the filing clerk. And, every evening, she walks the same hilly loop around her neighborhood — and imbued with a newfound energy and happiness, watches the sun set against the mountains.

Photos by Photographs by Brown Cannon III