Opinion: Time to push for a healthier Colorado

By Jake Williams

You might know that Colorado is home to the leanest population in the nation, but here are some facts you might not know:

  • We Coloradans may be skinny overall, but Colorado kids are not getting enough exercise and a quarter of them are overweight or obese.
  • Even though Coloradans are physically active on average, our fast-growing Latino population has a physical inactivity rate that is double that of non-Hispanic white Coloradans.
  • Although Colorado’s economy is among the top in the nation, our businesses are facing the fastest rise in the cost of employer-sponsored health plans in the country, causing harm to both health care access and economic growth.
  • While Colorado is rapidly insuring adults as part of the Affordable Care Act, nearly one in 10 is still not covered by health insurance.

These facts show that we have much more to work to do to make Colorado healthier, and we will have to improve our public policy to get there.


Here’s another fact that might surprise you. There has never been a health advocacy organization in Colorado with a primary focus on public policy change. Until now, that is.

We just launched Healthier Colorado. Our mission is to improve Coloradans’ health through policy changes that encourage healthy living or increase access to quality care. We want to make sure elected officials hear the voices of Coloradans who want a healthier state.

Fortunately, Colorado has many great role models proving how effective just one voice can be in promoting policy change.

After losing her son Michael following surgery, Patty Skolnik has become a citizen leader on patient safety. She is a passionate advocate and her efforts have worked to improve patient-provider communications and health care outcomes.

Long before the ACA, neurosurgeon Gary VanderArk was instrumental in the creation of the Colorado Coalition for the Medically Underserved (CCMU), an organization dedicated to ensuring that Coloradans have access to affordable, quality health care. CCMU, under the leadership of VanderArk, has been involved in many important policy changes to improve the health and well-being of Coloradans, including the passage of Amendment 35 (The Colorado Tobacco Tax) and the establishment of Colorado’s Health Exchange.

Westwood community mothers Reyna Zarate and Norma Brambila helped bring Zumba classes and an urban garden to their neighborhood to encourage healthy living. But their efforts didn’t end there. They have continued to meet with elected officials to encourage them to implement policy changes that could help transform this West Denver community.

Health care policy heroes like Skolnik, VanderArk, Zarate and Brambila have helped to inspire the launch of Healthier Colorado. Imagine what we can do if we make this type of advocacy an organization’s full time job.

We’re kicking off our effort by starting a conversation in communities throughout the state about out how policy change can make Coloradans healthier. We think there will be valuable ideas from across the political spectrum and state.

While health policy can sometimes be political, it is always personal. That’s why we’re also asking everyone: “Who inspires you to make Colorado healthier?” Tweet your reply with #GetCOHealthier.

When health policy is political, it really shouldn’t be partisan. It’s going to take all types of people in communities throughout the state in order to make change happen, and we want people to join us.

Let’s start a conversation and join together to advocate for a healthier Colorado. You can learn more about our organization at healthiercolorado.org.

Jake Williams is the executive director of Healthier Colorado. Healthier Colorado is the state’s first and only health advocacy organization that focuses primarily on policy change. It has a broad mission to improve Coloradans’ health through policy changes that increase access to quality care or support healthy living.

Opinions expressed in Health News Colorado represent the views of the individual authors.

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