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Working class is fat, unfit, study shows

Dennis Webb
Glenwood Springs Correspondent
Vail CO, Colorado
Kara K. Pearson/Post IndependentSharla Gallegos checks a patient's cholesterol and blood sugar levels at a free health screening done by Mountain Family Health Services at Rifle Middle School last week.
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GARFIELD COUNTY ” Results of a health screening program show many local working-class adults are overweight, don’t exercise the way they should, eat unhealthy foods ” and have normal blood pressure.

How to explain that blood pressure part?

“When you’re young you can get away with murder,” said Dave Adamson, executive director of Mountain Family Health Centers, which is conducting the screenings.



Health officials worry that as these people age, they may be slowly killing themselves as their bad habits begin to take a toll on them, leading to heart disease and other ailments.

The good news is that people can go far to ward off such problems through behavioral changes. But Adamson thinks those changes may not be easy for people who spend so much time working and commuting back and forth from their jobs.

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“It’s kind of tough to give everybody a pep talk about getting out and jogging when they get home from work,” Adamson said.

People who are so short on time also are less likely to eat healthy foods, instead relying on the convenience of fast food that can be high in fat, Adamson said.

About half of the 884 people who participated in the screening for the first eight months of this year said they eat high-fat foods once to several times per day. Only 12 percent eat at least five servings a day of high-fiber foods such as fruits and vegetables.



Almost half have high cholesterol levels, and 48 percent never get aerobic exercise. Forty-one percent are overweight, and 33 percent are obese. But 90 percent have normal blood pressure.

The key to the exercise part is that it needs to be aerobic.

“Being a carpenter is not necessarily insurance against cardiovascular disease,” Adamson said.

The cardiovascular screening program is being funded by state tobacco tax revenues that are funneled through the state Department of Public Health and Environment. Mountain Family Health Centers, which has a Glenwood Springs clinic, is one of five facilities around the state that teamed up with Denver Health to conduct the screenings.

“I think they were curious about the Roaring Fork Valley and the Western Slope,” Adamson said.

Those screened to date aren’t a cross-section of the community at large, Adamson said. But he finds the results to be instructive about the health levels of the demographics of those who have participated.

The screened group ended up being nearly two-thirds female, about three-quarters Latino, 41 percent under 35 and another 41 percent between 36 and 50. Seventy percent lack health insurance, and two-thirds work for wages or are self-employed.

The screened group is a growing part of the community, Adamson said.

“What was interesting was a young sample that already is showing some concern,” he added.

The problem is that such concerns tend to increase over time. People often gain weight over the years, and blood pressures can start to rise. These and other factors such as high cholesterol and a family history of heart problems make it more likely that such problems will develop. Some of the factors also can lead to diabetes.

Also disturbing is that 92 percent of those who participated in the screening didn’t have knowledge of their risk factors for heart disease. Part of the point of the screening is to boost such awareness.

An encouraging finding of the screening is that just 9 percent of the participants smoke. Adamson said that may be tied to the fact that many come from young, working families.

“They’re probably smart enough not to waste their money on cigarettes. They can’t afford it,” he said.

Mountain Family plans to continue the screenings, which have been conducted in locales such as stores, schools, churches and workplaces.

“Our hope is to see more and more folks in Garfield County that would like to get tested,” he said.


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