Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Are Coloradans Really Thinner?

And more importantly, would moving to Colorado help you lose weight?

A recent study suggested that some people in the northern US may be lying about having a svelte figure by fudging on their height and weight in phone surveys. The abstract of the study didn't mention the West, but all the obesity maps I've seen show Colorado as having the lowest rate of obesity in the US. I don't know whether that's accurate, but I think we're better than average.

A few months ago, my employer held a firm-wide video conference where we could see members of all or most of the other offices. We have two offices in Colorado; the rest are in downtown areas of medium and large cities in the South and the Midwest. We all work in the same industry; the employees are mostly white, college educated professionals. As far as I know, the only big difference between all of us is our locations. I'm guessing there were a few hundred people in total on screen; we saw different offices at different times.

Compared to Colorado, the other offices looked like they had a lot more heavy-set employees. If nothing else, it shows we really should eighty-six the cookie recipes at Christmas in the company magazine.

Assuming that Coloradans in general really are thinner than people from the South and Midwest, why is that? A few insights from having lived in the Denver area most of my life:

  • A lot of active, healthy people move to Colorado for the lifestyle: skiing, hiking, biking, boating, and so on. My best friend played tennis on Christmas when she lived here. With over 300 sunny days a year and winters that are milder than most people think , physically fit people enjoy themselves here year round.
  • A lot of Californians migrated here for the lower cost of living and brought their culture of health and fitness with them.
  • We don't put sugar in our tea. It gets over 100 degrees in Denver, and it's nothing to drink half a gallon of iced tea. Some recipes online call for half a cup of sugar for half a gallon of tea--sweet merciful heavens, that's 100 grams of carbohydrate! In general, low-carbers aim for no more than 50 grams of carb per day. 
  • Low-carb is easy to find here. All the 7-11s I've been to in Denver (but not San Diego) sell hot wings and pork rinds. Two big steak houses recently opened near my house. The parking lots are the size of those at big-box stores, and they're always full. I paid close attention on my commute tonight and saw several burger joints, a couple of sushi places, a few steak houses, a barbecue place, a breakfast place trumpeting its ham and bacon, and a lot of places with the word "grill" in their names. There were also a few pizza joints, bakeries and an ice cream parlor, but the point is, if you walk into a random restaurant in Denver, you'll probably be able to get a low-carb meal. (That wasn't the case in Chicago, where half the restaurants I saw were pizza and pasta places.) If you're downtown and want a quick bite from a truck or a street vendor, you'll find hot dogs, kebobs and the like everywhere, but cupcakes and ice cream are scarce.
  • Good manners. We don't try to make people eat things they don't want. You're literally more likely to see a drag queen on a commuter bus than to hear someone say, "Just have one bite--it won't hurt you!" Denver is a polite place. It's the suburbs where people get shot.

So would moving to Colorado help you if you've struggled with a weight problem? If you know what to do, but your problem is that you go with the flow, it might help. There are lots of little nudges in the right direction here. The thought of being seen without a bulky sweater on sunny winter days might be an incentive to avoid sweets over the holidays. People won't shove food at you if you don't want it. But Colorado isn't a fat farm: there are obese people here, too, and our grocery stores are full of the same junk as the ones in your home town. If you're looking to move anyway and want to lose weight, Denver is a good place to consider.

1 comment:

Chuck said...

i also saw a recent study showing that people who live at higher altitudes tend to be leaner.