The Colorado Health Foundation’s annual health report card released March 22, provides a reality check on Colorado’s persistent reputation as the “healthiest” state. Looking at 38 indicators of health across the lifespan, the report concludes that the health of Colorado’s pregnant women
and children is average or below average as compared to the rest of the nation. Older adults and youth don’t fare much better. Kudos to the Foundation for looking beneath the image of Colorado created by popular magazines’ “best of” lists and our wealth of Olympic-caliber athletes. We’ll never make progress on problems we’re not willing to acknowledge.
This is exactly the approach we’re taking in Boulder County to better understand and make a difference in some of the county’s most concerning health issues. In 2011 and 2012, Boulder County Public Health has convened over 100 individuals and community agencies in a public health improvement process to develop a local public health improvement plan. This is part of a larger effort, initiated through state legislation in 2008, to standardize core public health services across Colorado and require counties to focus on key health problems specific to their communities.
The first step in this process was to take a meaningful look at data describing the health and well-being of Boulder County residents, as well as our health system’s capacity to address our population’s needs, much as the Colorado Health Foundation’s health report card does for the state. Given Boulder County’s reputation as one of the healthiest places in the “healthiest” state, here are some things about our county that might surprise you: Nearly 1 out of 5 children in Boulder County are overweight or obese; suicide is the 7th leading cause of death in Boulder County and in 2010, there were 61 suicides in Boulder County; in 2009, 1 out of 4 high school students (Boulder Valley and St. Vrain Valley School districts combined) reported binge drinking.
Naturally, a wide range of health problems need attention in Boulder County. To limit the number of areas in which to focus the county’s efforts, the severity of the problem was a prime consideration, of course, as well as identifying proven solutions that were feasible to put into practice in Boulder County. And to ensure that the efforts were worth the investment, there had to be some confidence that we could see measured improvement in the problem within the next five years. In the end, the group selected three focus areas: healthy eating and active living, mental health and substance abuse.
Task forces addressing each issue have been hard at work since late 2011, delving deeper into the data to isolate aspects of each problem that could be tackled through collaborative efforts in Boulder County, with a realistic chance of measurable success in the next five years. For example, within the area of mental health, the group might recommend specific, effective strategies for lowering the number of suicides or suicide attempts among the age groups that are mostly likely to be affected. When the work of the task forces is completed by the end of April, Boulder County will have plans for improving some of our most serious and intractable health problems.
With these blueprints in hand, the whole community will be called upon to join the construction crew. The next phase of the process will be an invitation to Boulder County’s rich network of nonprofit, for-profit, and government agencies to determine how their work can contribute to preventing substance abuse and promoting mental health, healthy eating and active living.
Individuals—parents, teachers, health care professionals, students, employees, business owners, formal and informal community leaders—play an equally important role in building our healthy community. We all share in benefits of a healthy community, just as we all pay the costs—social and economic—of poor health among our fellow residents. We look forward to launching this community-wide public health improvement effort with our residents and partners over the next several months.
To follow the public health improvement process, please visit www.HealthyBoulderCounty.org
Director of Health Programs
Boulder County Public Health