Why Are Hispanics in Colorado Disproportionally Obese?

Obese Colorado Children
Fernanda Garcia-Villanueva, 8, takes her pulse at a group exercise session in the 10-week Shapedown Program at The Children's Hospital in Aurora, Colorado May 29, 2010. The program is part of the child and teen weight management program at the hospital. REUTERS/Rick Wilking (UNITED STATES) - LM2E67S11AJ01

According to the Centers of Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention from 2015 to 2016, about 93.3 million US adults (39.8%) were overweight or obese. Being obese in any part of the world is serious, but in America can also be expensive. Besides obesity-related conditions like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, Health Affairs reported that in 2008 the estimated annual medical cost of people with higher BMIs was $147 billion, $1,429 higher than those of normal weight. 

Exists a lot of factors related to obesity, like socioeconomic status, education and race/ethnicity, in fact it affects some groups more than others. The National Center for Health Statistics revealed in a data brief that “Hispanics (47.0%) and non-Hispanic blacks (46.8%) had the highest age-adjusted prevalence of obesity, followed by non-Hispanic whites (37.9%) and non-Hispanic Asians (12.7%).” 

Obesity prevalence also varies across states and territories, and in Colorado, despite being the “healthiest” state according to the CDC with 20% to less than 25% of adults overweights, 27.7% of Latinos are obese compared to 21.6% of non-Hispanic whites. “People see and hear, ‘Oh, Colorado, healthiest state in the nation,'” said Wendy Peters Moschetti, director of food systems for LiveWell Colorado, to CNN. “But when you dig deeper, there’s the Colorado paradox. Colorado is importing health.” 

The paradox or contradiction Peters Moschetti retest to is the fact that Colorado registers a disparity with the opportunity of its residents. As CNN reported, the non-Hispanic whites have high-paying tech jobs and enjoy outdoor opportunities in the Leadville trailer parks, the Rocky Mountains, and glamorous resorts while the minority struggles to eat healthily and have an active lifestyle.

According to Dr. Ruth Petersen, who runs the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Nutrition, minorities have less access to healthy foods, beverages or spaces for physical activity because they see more marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages, while in wealthier neighborhoods fresh fruits and vegetables are more common.  

“Lots of people think of Leadville as really healthy. How can Leadville have an obesity problem?” said Katie Baldassar, director of the local public health department’s Lake County Build a Generation project. “What we really see in Colorado is an equity problem. And we see that in Leadville.”

“They clean hotel rooms over in Vail. They work construction over in Breckenridge,” Baldassar said. “And they’re experiencing the double-headed monster of food scarcity and obesity.”

There’s 70% of Hispanic students enrolled in Leadville public schools but the vast majority do not meet physical activity guidelines compared to the students of the affluent Summit and Eagle counties nearby. Those kids who took part at the Get Outdoors Leadville summer program struggled while hiking at the mountain trail toward Mosquito Gulch. 

Many of the 8- and 9-year-olds revealed that if it wasn’t for the summer camp, they would spend a sedentary school break. “Probably watching my tablet or TV,” said Leonandro Lopez, 9, to CNN. “I don’t like getting my body moving.” The Get Outdoors Leadville summer camp offers healthy meals and snacks and take the participants to explore for seven hours a day, five days a week, the outdoor recreation at Leadville for about $30 to $50 for a two-week session. “We hope that our participants get familiar with these local places,” said Cisco Tharp, healthy kids director for Get Outdoors Leadville! “And can tell their families, ‘Hey, we can go here and we can do this.'”

Childhood obesity is a serious problem in the United States, and usually obese kids will become obese adults. For children and adolescents between 2 and 19 years old, the rate is approximately 18.5%, affecting about 13.7 million of minors. The CDC reported that the body mass index among 2- to 5-year-olds was 13.9%, 18.4% among 6- to 11-year-olds, and 20.6% among 12- to 19-year-olds adding that underage Latinx have a rate of an alarming 25.8%. 

“It’s a common characteristic of the way we observe obesity levels throughout the country,” said John Auerbach, CEO of Trust for America’s Health, a nonprofit that issues obesity report. “Obesity is more likely to be prevalent among those with lower incomes and among certain populations of color, in particular, African Americans, Latinos and American Indians.” 

Another situation that affects minorities in the area is that due to the high level or tourists visiting Leadville, the groceries cost 18% more and their incomes are below the state average. As a way to combat obesity, the Cloud City Conservation Center, an organization that creates educational opportunities and lasting community infrastructure in Leadville and Lake County, Colorado, is growing lettuce, cabbage and peas for the community. “The vegetables that grow best in this climate may be less popular, but they are the best for you,” said Kendra Kurihara, Cloud City’s executive director, according to CNN

Politicians tried to reduce obesity rates by 10% by 2020 but seems an impossible mission for Colorado. According to the CDC, the United States. spends 31 cents per person on obesity prevention campaigns, but Colorado receives about 27 cents “You can’t make meaningful change on that level,” said Joan Brucha, Healthy Eating Active Living unit manager at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. 

Unfortunately, obesity is a complex problem and doesn’t exist a simple solution to the epidemic, but certainly exists strategies to promote healthy living. The CDC recommends to all the “policy makers, state and local organizations, business and community leaders, school, childcare and healthcare professionals, and individuals” to work together and create a plan of action, look for ways to make dishes healthier, and reducing calorie-rich temptations. Include low-fat or non-fat milk or dairy products to your diet, choose lean meats, fish, beans for protein, drink lots of water, and reduce sugar-sweetened beverages, serve reasonably-sized portions, and always keep handy vegetables, fruits, and whole-grain products. 

Remember that small changes every day can lead to a happier and healthier life!