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“The State of Health” Report for Colorado: Something to Feel Good About

Kind of. The thing with measuring health these days is that everyone is grading on a curve. For example, people in the United States are by-and-large fat, but Coloradans are less fat than most.

Something to be proud of? Sure, in the same way a minor leaguer lighting up opposing pitchers would be proud to be the first one called up to the majors. You’re the best one on the team, but the competition isn’t all that great to begin with.

Take this little nugget in The State of Health report: “Health spending in the U.S. already consumes 18 percent of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and yet the overall quality of our care is roughly half that of other industrialized nations. Over 60% of bankruptcies nationwide are the result of healthcare expenses, and by 2040, health spending is projected to grow to over one-third our national economy.”

To their credit, Colorado at least seems embarrassed by this and realizes things need to change. And in this report outlining where things currently stand and where they would like them to be, they’ve put together a healthy dose of directives to fulfill their stated goal: To become the healthiest state. Probably won’t do much for worldwide health rankings, but it’s a good start.

To do this, they will focus on four main areas:

  1. Promoting prevention & wellness
  2. Expanding coverage, access, and capacity
  3. Improving health system integration & quality
  4. Enhancing value and strengthening sustainability

Already, #`1 is promising in that it philosophically moves away from sick care to actual “health” care. Some of the language in this section is a little touchy-feely, but there are specifics on what their focus will be:  1) Tackle Obesity Among Youth and Adults; 2) Support Improved Mental Health; 3) Support Reductions in Substance Abuse; 4) Improve Oral Health of Coloradans; 5) Encourage Wellness Among State Employees.

These initiatives are framed by concrete steps that are intended to make a difference and actually make good sense. From things like increased bike lanes and expanded, nutritious school breakfast to low-income children on the obesity front to the expansion and development of crises services for mental health, there seems to be a good deal of thought that’s gone into this. The proof will be in the pudding of course, but it’s a vision backed by action, and a pretty darn good one at a glance.

I won’t rivet you with the rest of the report, a meaty 56-page document, but here are some interesting morsels on where we’re at now:

The Good

  • Colorado has long had the lowest obesity rate in the nation and has the second lowest rate of diabetes.
  • Coloradans have lower death rates from cardiovascular disease and cancer than people living in almost every other state.
  • Since 2008, Colorado’s rank among states for active support of bicycling jumped from twenty-two to four, due in significant part to state and local partnerships that support cycling.
  • Low rates of tobacco use mean Colorado fares better than many other states.
  • For overall well-being, Colorado is ranked #2, up from #6 last year and a “low” of #10 in 2009
  • Colorado ranks #1 in physical health and we are among an elite set of states that have shown sustained excellence over five years.

The Bad

  • Colorado ranks 23rd among all states in the proportion of children who are overweight or obese. Our childhood obesity rate is 2nd fastest in the nation.
  • Colorado’s rate of suicide among adolescents (age 15-19) is 8th highest in the nation.
  • Colorado has the second highest rate of non-medical use of prescription pain relievers, at 6% of people over age 12.
  • Nearly 18% of Colorado women who are pregnant do not access prenatal care in the first trimester, increasing the likelihood of complications and cost.
  • Coloradans with incomes below the state average are more likely to be in poor or fair health, show greater rates of smoking, and do not get regular physical activity.

Now let’s get to work on where we want to be.

For more information, contact Katherine Blair, Senior Policy Advisor for Health, Office of Gov. John Hickenlooper, katherine.blair@state.co.us, www.colorado.gov/stateofhealth

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