Coca-Cola’s persistent efforts to understate the harmful impact of sugar-sweetened beverages have generated justifiable controversy and attention, including in last Sunday’s
Denver Post. But what is equally noteworthy (and considerably more encouraging) is the growing trend among many in the food and beverage industry to make meaningful improvements in the healthfulness of their products and in the marketing and pricing of healthier choices. And Colorado is helping lead this positive transformation.
This market shift is driven in large measure by increased public awareness of the enormous potential to improve health through better nutrition, and by growing concern about a spiraling obesity rate (which has tripled in Colorado in just 25 years).
LiveWell Colorado is partnering with leaders in the food industry — including several farsighted CEOs of fast-casual restaurants companies head-quartered in Colorado — to accelerate these healthier food practices. Healthy restaurants, once limited to a narrow segment of upscale and alternative dining establishments, have spread to a much larger universe that includes more casual and affordable chains. Similarly, the state’s largest grocery store retailer, King Soopers, has a longstanding commitment to promoting healthy options, including for low-income Coloradans.
The burgeoning digital health sector in Colorado — nurtured by the terrific collaborative Prime Health and represented by industry leaders such as Welltok and other technology companies — is also embracing wellness for all Coloradans.
I emphasize the words “all Coloradans.”
We know that, too often, access to healthy and affordable food and safe places to walk, bike and engage in recreational activities correlates to income, geography, race and ethnicity.
It’s surprising and disappointing to many people that Colorado ranks only 24th in the amount of physical activity our kids engage in (as noted in the Colorado Health Foundation’s annual Report Card); that Colorado is one of only four states that doesn’t have a statewide physical education requirement in our schools; and that one out of every three children in Colorado lacks sufficient access to parks and open spaces in their neighborhoods.
The good news is that a strong “active transportation” agenda in support of safe pedestrian and biking options for all Coloradans can make us the best in the nation without extraordinary expense. It requires only leadership, strategic planning, and a small redirection of resources to achieve significant increases in physical activity through these community-focused strategies.
But it does require us to do a better job “connecting the dots.” Historically, this agenda of ensuring more affordable and accessible healthy food options in all of Colorado’s communities and promoting physical activity was viewed as separate and fragmented issues without a coordinated and concentrated political and policy effort behind it.
The health (and economic development) dividend of a statewide wellness movement represents an enormous opportunity for Colorado. While some elements of the food and beverage industry may resist this movement by finding new, more vulnerable communities to market to or by trying to minimize important research about the negative consequences of sugar and many highly processed foods, they are on the wrong side of public health and market forces.
The growing number of food and beverage companies and business leaders in Colorado who are embracing and helping to accelerate this wellness movement will claim as their legacy a healthier, more prosperous and equitable future for our wonderful state.
Shepard Nevel is president and CEO of LiveWell Colorado.