Why Does Colorado Kick Alabama's Fat Butt?

Alabama resident and Health.com diabetes blogger Sean Kelley has worked hard to put his home state’s obesity rank (No. 2 in the country, waddling just behind Mississippi) in context. Don’t snicker at the deep-fried South, Sean warns: “The South may have the three states that have obesity rates of more than 30%, but the rest of the country (save Colorado) is not far behind with rates between 20% and 29%.”

I’ve lately been spending time in Colorado, the only state whose obesity rate, at 18.7%, weighs in below 20%. (Obesity is defined as having a Body Mass Index, or BMI, greater than 30). And I can tell you that as a New Yorker who carries 20 extra pounds around, I’m anxious when I walk into a Colorado social event. Will I be the porkiest guy in the room? Usually, yes. About 80% of the people at any gathering I’ve been to in Colorado are Obama-thin (especially the Republicans) and have that calm-before-the-void look that comes from knowing the difference between a piton and a carabiner.

Maybe Coloradans are just a mountain variety of Manhattan’s impossibly rich and impossibly thin? The Vail species, sure, but I don’t go there. Popular arguments for Colorado’s low BMIs range from the inane (”Denver residents have more college degrees per capita than most others, which means we know it’s important to eat fruits and vegetables and keep our hearts pumping”—please) to the pedestrian but plausible: Coloradans just walk more than the average American (see page 15 of this analysis).

It’s true that healthy body weight correlates to wealth and may correlate to education. But Colorado only ranks 12th for household income, 38th for cost-adjusted money spent on education, and 16th on a list of
healthiest states

Perhaps fresh-air mountain states simply attract thin people? Maybe, but Wyoming, to the north, and New Mexico, to the south, have much higher obesity rates while possessing their fair share of elevation.

Next page: What a soccer tourney says about a state’s fitness ethic

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