Low insurance and vaccination rates and rising obesity led the Colorado Health Foundation to give the state a C+ in its first benchmark study of overall health.
The organization examined 20 indicators, said Deborah Thomas, vice president of programs for the foundation.
“We do well on some – particularly with those that relate to adults,” she said. “But the factors that relate to children – the number of low-birth-weight babies, the vaccination rate – we don’t do so well on.”
Colorado’s children received a C for overall health, while adults received a B+.
“We think the grade of a C+ isn’t great, obviously,” Thomas said. “But an A grade is within reach, if we as a state come together and focus on the areas that require improvement. It’s achievable, that we can reach the federally set goal.”
The benchmarks used in the study come from federal guidelines set in “Healthy People 2010,” an initiative by the Department of Health and Human Services. The goal is to reduce obesity levels to 15 percent of the population by 2010, have 100 percent of children insured by the same year and achieve an 80 percent vaccination rate during the next four years.
“We believe Colorado can be the healthiest state in the nation and the Colorado Health Report Card is a tool to reach that goal,” said Anne Warhover, president and CEO of the Colorado Health Foundation.
Health insurance – or the lack of it – remains a stumbling block for the state, said Reid Reynolds, director for policy and research for the Colorado Health Institute, which coordinated the research with the CHF.
“In the group of people 18-64, we rank 38th out of all the states,” he said. “But in insurance rates for children, we rank 44th. In Colorado, 14 percent of the children do not have health insurance.”
While the state’s ranking for health insurance is low, El Paso County received an A- for the rate of uninsured children and a B for the number of uninsured adults. Of the four counties studied separately from the state, El Paso, Larimer, Denver and Mesa, El Paso County had the highest rate of insurance coverage.
“Despite the relatively high number of insured citizens, El Paso Country receives a B- for the number of mothers receiving prenatal care and a C for the number of low birth rate babies,” the report said.
El Paso residents also are heavier than people in other Colorado counties, earning a C for obesity rates, a key factor in the onset of diabetes. The study said diabetes is not yet a problem for the county, giving it an A- for prevalence of the disease.
The Colorado Health Foundation and the Colorado Health Initiative plan to take the results of their study to the state capital.
“We are doing more than putting the information out there,” Thomas said. “We want people to know where to focus their energies. It’s a tool to raise awareness of the issues. We’re planning to meet with elected leaders in the state; we want them to be aware of what we’re doing compared to other states. We’re going to implore them to make this the focus of their work in the upcoming year.”
The study made use of statistics complied in every state on an annual basis – insurance and vaccination rates, availability of prenatal care, the number of low birth weight babies. Those indicators have been tracked by the organization, but this is the first time the data was compared with other states, Reynolds said.
“We wanted to find a manageable set of indicators,” he said. “And then we compared them to the federal guidelines. We can identify the number of areas where we need to improve.”
Obesity is one of those areas, he said. While Colorado has the lowest percentage of obese adults nationwide, the rate is still higher than the federal guideline of 15 percent by 2010.
“And the rate is getting higher,” Thomas said. “Three or four years ago, we were at 10 percent, now we’re at 16 percent. It’s a problem, and it’s one that we can address.”
The report card is a benchmark that individuals, businesses and state leaders can use to address health concerns, she said.
“We plan to do this every year and continually track our progress,” she said. “We can do better – some things take commitment of individuals, but there are programs the state can get involved in. That’s the direction we’re moving.”