Anne Warhover: Guest opinion
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
The vision of Colorado being the healthiest state in the nation is a bold one. More importantly, it’s achievable. By understanding physical and mental health, education and jobs as inter-related investments, each dependent on the other, we can turn this bold vision into an exciting reality. While a focus on physical and mental health is important, we at the Colorado Health Foundation understand that our state and the nation can only make real progress if kids are well educated and people are working.
Colorado often earns kudos for being a “lean” state, but that “honor” is a deceptive one. The latest Colorado Health Report Card shows that 14 percent of Colorado kids are obese – ranking us No. 23 among states. In fact, Colorado has the fourth fastest-growing rate of childhood obesity in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
We know, too, that a high obesity rate among kids leads to an increasing obesity rate among adults. Though the costs of health care are driven by many elements, obesity is a dominant factor that leads directly to chronic health conditions and the high costs of treating them throughout a lifetime. In the face of that challenge, we must summon our collective resolve to once again “dream big” and focus on health as a sound investment in our children and in our shared future.
Investing in health is demonstrably the most effective way to head off sickness, chronic conditions, and the punishing economic consequences that come with them. Along with genetic predisposition, the primary determinants of health are environmental – education, income, and to a great degree, the quantity and quality of the food we eat and the physical activity we engage in. If we can invest in raising generations of kids for whom healthy eating and physical activity, along with access to healthy choices, become our new shared values, our new “normal,” those children – now and when they become adults – will experience far better quality of life with far fewer chronic conditions to manage and pay for down the road. That’s great news for them and great news for our state and nation in terms of reduced health care costs and a vibrant economy.
So, as a state, let’s be bold and know that what we can imagine is achievable in Colorado.
Imagine the healthy eating choice becoming the easy and accessible choice at Colorado’s schools, restaurants and homes. Imagine physical activity incorporated into our daily life. Imagine a state where it is actually easier to walk or bike to school and to work than it is to drive and park. Imagine community health centers as gathering places for people to learn about nutrition, participate in group sessions supporting self management of chronic disease, to interact with a health coach, to learn safe ways to exercise, to talk about anxiety and stress, to meet neighbors, and only when necessary, to see a doctor. Imagine that we will no longer say, “I am going to the doctor for a check up” but instead, “I am going to the community health center to build a long and healthy life.” Imagine kids learning more because they are healthier. Imagine a healthier, more productive workforce, attracting more businesses that want to locate (and hire) in the healthiest state. And along the way, imagine reduced health care costs and the resulting benefits to our entire economy.
The Colorado Health Foundation’s recently approved sale of its stake in the HCA-HealthONE health care system is an important step in moving Colorado from what we can imagine to what we can experience in being the healthiest state in the nation. With the completion of this landmark transaction, we are well-positioned to help lead and invest in Colorado’s own health revolution.