CU center aims to help Americans live healthy |

CU center aims to help Americans live healthy

associated press writer
In this photo taken Aug. 17, 2010, James Hill, demonstrates how he walks on a treadmill in his office during an interview in Denver. Hill says Americans are caught in "an epidemic of poor lifestyles" that's raising health costs for diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other ills. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

DENVER – Americans are caught in “an epidemic of poor lifestyles” that’s raising health-care costs for diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other ills, weight-control advocate James Hill says.

It’s nothing that nutritious meals and a good sweat can’t change, but the trick is figuring out how to get people moving and away from junk food.

In September, the University of Colorado Denver is breaking ground on a $35 million Health and Wellness Center at its Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora. With Hill as executive director, the center hopes to be a national model for helping people adopt healthy habits.

“What we want to do is develop the science around lifestyle and health but more importantly, translate it to programs that will impact people’s lives,” Hill said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that while genes, metabolism, culture and socioeconomic status all influence body weight, behavior and environment offer the greatest opportunities for preventing obesity.

The CU wellness center is scheduled to open to the public in 2012 with a demonstration kitchen, a restaurant and grocery lab where researchers can watch how people buy and eat food, and state-of-the-art nutrition and fitness labs, said Hill, who holds a doctorate in physiological psychology.

At the fitness center, which employees also could use to work out, research subjects could stick a “key” into a machine to log their activity and let researchers know how well they’re following their exercise prescriptions, Hill said.

The new facility would house CU’s Center for Integrative Medicine, the Center for Human Nutrition and the Center for Women’s Health Research in one building, where programs would be developed to help people live healthy. Community partners like schools and businesses would implement programs based on that research.

Hill envisions the center also providing interactive online programs and traveling vans to educate people around the state.

The average person gains a pound or two a year, Hill said. Hill would love if every Coloradan weighed the same at the end of the year as they did at the start.

“It’d be the greatest success in the history of public health,” he said with a grin. “If we keep going the way we’re going, our kids aren’t going to be able to hike the mountains. They’ll be too out of shape.”

A $15 million grant from the Anschutz Foundation, matched by CU Denver, plus a $2 million grant from the foundation to Hill are helping launch the center.

Annual funding will come from grants, public programs available for a fee, fundraising and potentially opening the rooftop terrace for event bookings, Hill said.

Getting people to improve their lifestyles takes small changes they can see themselves doing every day, not anything drastic, like forsaking dessert forever, Hill said.

“The world would be terrible without ice cream,” he said.

Hill co-founded America on the Move, which encourages people to walk daily and track progress on a pedometer. That program also will be housed at the CU center.

Hill himself tries to stuff an hour of physical activity into each day. That means on busy days, he might listen to a conference call while walking on his office treadmill.

He’s all for workplaces, shops and restaurants helping people live better too. After all, a fit work force can mean lower health care costs for businesses.

“I’d love to see five people pedaling (stationary) bikes in a circle, having a meeting,” he said. “Why not?”

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