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Colorado Kids Need Less Screen Time To Be As Lean As Adults

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Michael Cramer
/
Flickr - Creative Commons
A nationwide study found that children are only spending 4-7 minutes outside in unstructured play every day, but 7-10 hours a day staring at screens.

The number of children in Colorado who are obese has plateaued, but that’s not good news according to the state department of public health.

The state’s childhood obesity rate was 14.8 percent in 2004 and 14.6 percent in 2014. Colorado may have the leanest adults, but the state’s children are in the middle of the pack nationwide.

“….we’re about 25th, 26th in the states for what our child overweight and obesity rates are, so this next generation, we’re not doing any better than a lot of other states in preventing obesity in our youth,” said Mark Wallace, director of public health in Weld County, where 1-in-3 adults is overweight or obese.

Colorado has an interesting problem, according to Wallace. The state’s reputation for being a healthy place to live, along with a booming economy and great outdoor activities has tipped the scale with an influx of fit people that lower the overall rate.

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Credit Erin O'Toole / KUNC
Many Coloradans are food insecure or don't know how to prepare many types of healthy foods.

“We end up importing a lot of healthy adults. Colorado may be the fittest in the nation, but the base weight keeps going up. If every other state is getting heavier faster than we are, but we’re still getting heavier, that’s not a good thing,” Wallace said.

About 56 percent of Coloradans are either overweight or obese. In Weld County it’s 65 percent - which matches the national average.

Both in Colorado and across the U.S. there has been a leveling off in obesity rates among children. Wallace found that in Weld County, the data shows that obesity affects populations differently.

“There is a higher [overweight and obesity] rate in Hispanic and Latino residents compared to those who are non- Hispanic or Latino,” Wallace said. “We’ll be looking to see how well aligned are all activities around the community that all the different agencies might be engaging in to see if we can really drive home a change.”

Weld County has responded in unique ways. Health officials found that many residents, especially in the Hispanic and Latino communities didn’t know how to prepare healthy ingredients like kale, so they launched a healthy foods cooking class.

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Credit Brandon Satterwhite / Flickr - Creative Commons
Colorado reputation for being a healthy place to live, along with a booming economy and great outdoor activities has tipped the scale with an influx of fit people that lower the overall rate. Taken at the main entrance to the Garden of the Gods, on Aug. 17, 2014.

“It’s about making changes in the everyday lifestyle. So with these classes they can learn how to prepare unfamiliar healthy foods and integrate it into their usual cooking,” Wallace said.

It’s hoped that changing perceptions at home about food, nutrition and activity levels will help both parents and children be healthier overall. Research shows children who got the recommended amount of physical activity, ate fruits and vegetables every day and limited their sugary drinks lived with a parent who did the same.

According to the state health department:

Pregnancy: Nearly half of Colorado women are overweight or obese before they become pregnant. Gaining and maintaining the right amount of weight during pregnancy improves the chances of a baby being born at a healthy weight. Infants: 6-of-10 Colorado moms breastfeed for the first six months of a baby’s life as recommended. Feeding babies only breast milk, even by bottle, for the first six months reduces the likelihood of obesity in childhood and throughout their adult lives. Toddlers: Nearly a third of children aged 2-to-4 are overweight or obese. Parents who introduce their children to a variety of whole grains, lean meat and beans, fruits and vegetables, and drinks without added sugar can protect their children from obesity and related health problems. Children: More than one in four children aged 5-to-11 are overweight or obese. Parents who limit their children’s “screen time,” make sure they get enough sleep and help ensure they have nutritious food and opportunities for physical activity at home and school can protect them from obesity throughout childhood and beyond.  

Food is only part of the equation. Health officials are concerned about the lack of activity that children are getting. A nationwide study found that children are only spending 4-7 minutes outside in unstructured play every day, but 7-10 hours a day staring at screens. Health experts recommend at least one hour of physical activity, and no more than 2 hours of screen time every day.

In an effort to increase physical activity, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper announced more than $100 million over four years to improve biking in Colorado.

“Our goal is to make Colorado the best state for biking in the country,” said Hickenlooper. “These investments will help fuel our economic growth and tourism industry, move us toward a cleaner environment and advance our goal of being the healthiest state in the nation.”

How Colorado will help vulnerable populations, like those who are food insecure or below the poverty line and are statistically more prone to being overweight or obese remains to be seen.

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