Eagle County is the country’s least obese county, CDC says | SummitDaily.com

Eagle County is the country’s least obese county, CDC says

Randy Wyrick
rwyrick@vaildaily.com

EAGLE COUNTY — You won't lose weight by traveling through Eagle County, unless you're jogging, but we're the least obese county in these United States of America.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which keep track of this sort of thing, crunched the data. They learned that Eagle County — that's us — is home to the lowest percentage of obese people in the country.

Fewer than 11.8 percent of Eagle County residents are considered obese, and only 9.4 percent of us are physically inactive. That's less than half the national average of 22 percent.

Across Colorado, only 21.3 percent of us are obese.

After that, you have to go to the West Coast, where you'll find five of the six least obese states.

The CDC says those low obesity rates are likely because we exercise more and eat better.

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Some of it's self selection

Dr. Dennis Lipton, an internist at Vail Health, said it's a little bit of heredity but mostly self-selection.

"People who live here have generally chosen the active mountain lifestyle. It's an expensive place to live, so if you are not actively engaged in enjoying the outdoors, the motivation to stay here is reduced. Also, because it's expensive to live here, the education level and socioeconomic status of the average resident is higher than average," Lipton said.

People who are overweight or have other serious problems simply cannot live here because of the altitude and prefer lower elevations, Lipton said. Also, altitude prompts some weight loss. The more you weigh, the more oxygen you require.

"Therefore, there is physiologic benefit to weighing less at higher altitude. Your body has to work less to maintain adequate oxygenation. Just like you don't generally see obese long distance runners," he said. "Your body adapts to whatever stressors it is presented with."

No celebration, yet

Chris Lindley, Eagle County's public health director, is not yet ready to break out the celebration cake.

"While Eagle County may have the lowest obesity rate, 34 percent of our population is overweight, so we are a long way off from any type of celebration," Lindley said. "Being the slowest to get to the crisis point just does not mean there is not still a crisis. We have to continue to drive at the underlying reasons we are growing more and more unhealthy."

It starts young. With outreach programs extoling the benefits of healthy eating and physical activity, in the past five years Eagle County has seen early childhood obesity rates drop 4 percent, and overweight rates in children have dropped 5 percent.

Jennie Wahrer, Eagle County Public Health's maternal and child health manager, said it can be a family affair.

"Good nutrition and regular physical activity can help your child achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Staying fit helps prevent the health problems that being overweight or obese can cause later in life, including heart disease and diabetes. Parents can be the role model for their children," Wahrer said.

Kids still need to get off the couch.

Fat is where you'd expect to find it

Across the rest of the country, we're pretty much the Invasion of the Couch Creatures, or would be if we could get off the couch long enough to invade anything except the refrigerator.

More than one-third of Americans have a body mass index score of 30 or higher, according to the CDC's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.

Obese people are concentrated in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and West Virginia. In those five states, 35 percent or more of the population is obese.

We're still overweight

Lindley said many local people are still carrying extra weight, but not nearly to the extent of the rest of the country.

"Just because you are thin and/or exercise a lot does not give you license to eat poorly. Ninety percent or more of your calories should come from nutrient-dense vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains," Lindley said.

Comparing kids from 50 years ago to kids now, you can see that we're going the wrong way fast, said Brandon Williams, Eagle County Public Health's process improvement and operations director.

Williams suggested busting your bohiney off the Barcalounger, getting some exercise and eliminating processed sugar from your diet.

Ironically, the Food & Drug Administration continues to allow advertising of artificially sweetened soda as "diet."

"This is one of the greatest consumer frauds in modern times," Williams said. "Just like tobacco of the past, once thought of socially and physically cool, processed sugar in the future will be recognized for its negative effects on our health, and I hope will have the same regulations as tobacco," Williams said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.