Where Larimer, Weld rank in state health care metrics

Everyone knows that Colorado regularly beats the rest of the country when it comes to the metrics most often used to measure the health of residents. But how do the counties stack up, specifically the two counties closest to our hearts: Larimer and Weld?

The Colorado Health Foundation knows the answer, and has published its findings in an annual report called the Colorado Health Report Card.

Larimer County residents beat the rest of the state in many of the most important areas, according to the report card, with lower numbers of adults and children dealing with obesity, having a regular health care provider and fewer smokers and binge drinkers. Larimer figures on mental health are better than the state’s, too.

Specifically, from 2008 to 2010, the most recent numbers available, Larimer County had an obesity rate of 19 percent, below the state average of 22 percent. In the same vein, just 9 percent of children in Larimer County had a body mass index at or above the 95th percentile, which is an indicator of obesity.

By comparison, statewide, 13.9 percent of children were found to be obese.

Yet while these numbers are positive by comparison to the rest of the state and certainly to the nation, they are still far from ideal, according to Bruce Cooper, medical director for the Health District of Northern Larimer County.

Obesity remains one of the most significant health problems nationwide, Cooper said, and there has been a gradual increase in the number of overweight Americans every year. Obesity has a ripple effect on a person’s health, leading to chronic problems that are both debilitating and costly, Cooper said.

Rates of obesity are directly tied to factors such as income and education level, Cooper said, which is part of the reason why a generally more-affluent Larimer County is doing better than other places in terms of keeping the rate relatively low.

The natural environment in Larimer County – bikes paths, trails, etc., – is also conducive to helping its residents maintain healthier weights, Cooper said.

In fact, the report card shows that 84 percent of adults in Larimer County said that they participate in some kind of leisure-time physical activity, higher than the statewide rate of 82 percent.

The presence of health-food stores such as Whole Foods and Sprouts Farmers’ Market, as well as the various community farmers’ markets that operate year-round, help provide plenty of healthy eating options as well, Cooper said.

Those in Larimer County are also doing well when it comes to monitoring their health with the assistance of a health care professional that they see regularly, according to the report card.

Seventy-nine percent of Larimer County residents surveyed said that they have a regular source of care, just above the state rate of 78 percent. Having a regular source of care lessens risk for hospitalizations and emergency-room trips, Cooper said.

The use of ER services increased when the economy soured, Cooper said, because the unemployed lost their health insurance or simply could not afford to go to the doctor.

Behavioral health issues were also less prevalent in Larimer County, with 15.2 percent of residents classifying themselves as current smokers, lower than the state average of 16.9 percent.

According to Cooper, Health District research shows that, of the smokers in Larimer County, 75 percent of them want to quit, and half of them have attempted to do so.

“We’ve seen a progressive trend downward in the smoking rate in recent years,” Cooper said.

Binge drinking was also less of an issue in Larimer than in the state as a whole, with 15.1 percent of adults reporting binge drinking in the previous month, compared with 15.9 percent in the state.

The last highlight of the report card shows that 9.8 percent of Larimer adults reported mental health difficulties such as stress or depression for eight or more days in the past month, lower than the Colorado rate of 12.4 percent.

While Larimer County’s numbers are consistently better than the state as a whole, the same metrics in Weld County are slightly less rosy.

The only area in which Weld County beats the state average is binge drinking. The report card shows that 14.1 percent of adults in Weld reported binge drinking in the previous month, compared with Colorado’s 15.9 percent and Larimer County’s 15.1 percent.

When looking at these numbers, it is worth noting that Weld County is home to far fewer college students than Larimer County and only one brewery and one brewpub, located in Greeley, as opposed to the ever-growing number of breweries and brewpubs in Larimer County, which exceeds one dozen.

Obesity rates in Weld County are higher than the state’s, with a 25 percent adult obesity rate and 15 percent of children with a body mass index at or above the 95th percentile.

In other metrics, Weld County was on par with Colorado as a whole.

Molly Armbrister covers health care for the Northern Colorado Business Report She can be reached at marmbrister@ncbr.com or 232-3139.

Molly Armbrister covers real estate, banking and health care for the Northern Colorado Business Report. She can be reached at 970-232-3139, marmbrister@ncbr.com or twitter.com/MArmbristerNCBR

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