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Colo. Is Leanest State, But ...

Colorado still has bragging rights as the leanest state in the country. However, things are changing, with adult obesity more than doubling over the past decade, state health officials warned.

While Colorado's obesity rate of 14.9 percent is the lowest in the country, health experts said the increase is cause for concern.

"Hopefully, it's going to help people wake up and realize it's a problem," Dr. Marc Cornier, an endocrinologist at Denver Health Medical Center, said Thursday.

Experts say obesity is a critical health issue because of the serious health effects, including increased risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, sleep apnea and depression.

In 1990, 6.9 percent of the adults in Colorado were obese. In 2001, the latest year for which data is available, that number more than doubled to 14.9 percent, according to an annual survey of 2,000 residents by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

That means more than 450,000 of the state's 3.3 million adults are obese.

Colorado, whose backcountry amenities draw outdoor enthusiasts from around the globe, has topped the list of the country's leanest states for years. By comparison, Mississippi's obesity rate is 26.5 percent, the country's highest.

"There's a lot of opportunities to play in Colorado. It does not surprise me we are the leanest state. It makes perfect sense," said Douglas H. Benevento, executive director of the health department.

Natalie Hunter, strolling along downtown Denver's pedestrian mall, agreed that Coloradans are more active than most people.

"I go to Des Moines (Iowa) a lot for work, and there's a huge difference in outdoor sports," said Hunter, 36. "People there bike and run, but you don't have the aggressive outdoor sports that Colorado has: mountain climbing, hiking, skiing."

But even Coloradans have increasingly fallen prey to the usual suspect: eating more calories than they burn.

"There is too much dietary fat and too little physical activity," said Dr. Ned Calonge, the state's chief medical officer. "Permanent, sustainable changes in eating habits, which involves fewer calories, are required."

According to survey results, 4.9 percent of those between 18 and 24 are obese, but the share zooms to 18 percent of Coloradans age 45 to 54.

By Deborah Mendez

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