Colorado's Climate, Landscape Helps Residents Stay Fit

For a state with a lieutenant governor who wears a pedometer to track the number of steps she takes each day, it's not much of a surprise that the exercise-obsessed state of Colorado is considered the fittest in the nation by the Trust for America's health.

Colorado leads the list of states with the lowest obesity ranking for the fourth year in a row, according to the organization, which examines obesity in the United States, and calls for more government action to fight the epidemic.

Just 17.6 percent of Colorado residents are obese, according to the study.

"Factors like a built-in environment — sidewalks, parks, public spaces and affordable recreations — are leaning in Colorado's favor," said Laura Segal, a spokeswoman for the Trust for America's Health. "Colorado is known for being a little more active than other states."

Massachusetts, Vermont and Connecticut also have low percentages of obese residents.

Less lucky are the states that scored a spot on the list of most obese states, like Mississippi — 30 percent of its residents are obese — and West Virginia.

In addition to other factors that contribute to obesity, such as genetic predisposition and poverty levels, states' levels of physical activity were found to be directly related to their obesity rankings, according to the report.

Mississippi, which is No. 1 on the list of most obese states, was ranked not only as the most poverty-stricken state, but also one of the least physically active.

Colorado, on the other hand, was high on the list of physically active states.

Colorado's Culture of Fitness

To Colorado's Lt. Gov. Barbara O'Brien, the state's latest health ranking comes as no surprise.

"It happened because of the culture of Colorado," O'Brien told ABC News. "We are a fit state because there is a big emphasis on getting out on the weekends and going hiking and biking."

Colorado has, on average, 300 days of sunshine each year, and Denver boasts the largest city park system in the country, with more than 200 parks in the city and 20,000 acres of parks in the outer areas, according to the Denver Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"Folks [in Colorado] are extremely active," said Kenneth Ho, a former triathlete who lives in the Denver area, which has 850 miles of bike paths, the largest trail in the nation. "I'm just as likely to see a 65-year-old blowing by me on a bike as I am to see teenagers running around. [Colorado] is extremely active."

"Colorado attracts a person that is going to be typically more active," said P.J. Musilli, a personal trainer and fitness franchise owner in Denver. "We have a pretty good climate that promotes a lot of outdoor activity."

While the beautiful Colorado environment may help to promote more recreational activities, fitness professionals assert that Coloradans, like residents in other states, must still be proactive about their health.

"The environment just lends itself to outdoor recreation to a degree that only a few other states have," said Matthew Hickey, director of the Human Performance Clinical Research Lab at Colorado State University. "But there are still a reasonable number of adults that have issues related to obesity. The environment makes it that much easier, but it still boils down to making a choice."

Coveted Low Obesity Ranking

While the impressive Colorado landscape — the state's mountainous regions are six times the size of Switzerland, and include 2,850 lakes — can't hurt in fighting the obesity epidemic that's sweeping the country, city officials and local politicians still do a lot to maintain the title of fittest state in the nation year after year.

"We take the ranking very seriously," said Janet Fritz, marketing director of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation. "This is a state of mind here. Our businesses are getting very involved — healthy employees help create lower health care costs. There's a large initiative in the region to maintain that least-obese ranking."

Companies, city officials say, have inquired about relocating to Colorado with the hope of hiring healthier employees, which could decrease the cost of health care.

But there are smaller, more nuanced ways the state tries to remain a permanent fixture on the list of healthiest states.

According to O'Brien, city planners hope to install signs which display the number of steps it takes to get from one building to another in the downtown area, making it easier for residents to track the number of steps they take each day.

She told ABC News that they are even looking into providing Democratic delegates with pedometers during the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

"We're thinking about giving them each pedometers," said O'Brien. "We're trying to walk our talk and show people that even governors or party officials can have fun competing against one another."

But for those who are less inclined to work out in what may seem like a nonstop exercise routine, Denver not only brews more beer than any other city in the nation, but it was also the birthplace of the very first cheeseburger.

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