Opinion: Looking out for No.1 in health

By Michele Lueck

In college basketball, being No. 1 means winning the Final Four. In cinema, it means taking home an Oscar. But when it comes to Colorados health, being No. 1 could improve hundreds of thousands of lives and greatly benefit the local economy and business environment.

Though Colorado already is No. 1 in certain measures (we have the leanest and most-active adult population of any state), the 2012 Colorado Health Report Card shows theres plenty of room for improvements.

For example, were No. 31 among other states in prenatal care and No. 38 in childrens preventative dental care. And though our adult population is the leanest relative to other states, our obesity rate for adults and children has risen dramatically in recent years

For the most part, Colorado is pretty average when it comes to health, but these statistics reveal a level of mediocrity that belies our national reputation as a healthy, vibrant and innovative state.

In fact, Colorados grades havent changed much since the Colorado Health Foundation partnered with the Colorado Health Institute to produce the first Colorado Health Report Card seven years ago. While thats frustrating in many respects, it also begs the question: What if we were No. 1?

For the first time ever, the 2012 Colorado Report Card looks at exactly what it would mean if Colorado were No. 1 in key health indicators.

For example: If Colorado were ranked No. 1 instead of No. 36 on the percentage of children without health insurance, an additional 78,593 children would have coverage.

Among the other possibilities if Colorado were No. 1:

  • 2,100 more babies would be born at a healthy weight
  • 123,400 more children would have access to a medical home
  • 24,900 fewer children would be obese
  • 32,600 fewer high school students would smoke cigarettes
  • 92,600 fewer adults would report mental health difficulties
  • 376,800 fewer adults would binge drink
  • 16,200 more older adults would have all of their recommended immunizations

Its worth noting that most of these numbers reflect modifiable health risk factors in other words, actions we can take to improve our health. A recent article in Health Affairs magazine noted that 22 percent of what we spend on health care can be mitigated or modified such as lifestyle, behavior, the things we eat and how much we exercise.

Frankly, given our states resources and collective brain power, being No. 1 in these indicators isnt much of a stretch.

Being No. 1 would not only make a difference to hundreds of thousands of Colorado lives, its a goal that would boost business and the economy.

Tom Clark, CEO of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp., once told me that health is a major factor that companies consider when they look to relocate or expand to Colorado. He said ranking in the top three of key health measures greatly improves the win rate of landing prospective employers.

For businesses that are already operating in the state, the supplement to the 2012 Colorado Health Report Card Keeping Colorado Competitive: Roadmap to a Healthier, More Productive Workforce, shows how certain health indicators affect Colorados economic health and competitiveness in terms of dollars saved.

For instance, Colorado employers and employees could save an estimated $121 million annually in health care costs if the state had the lowest rate of depression. Likewise, employers and employees could save an estimated $229 annually in health costs if obesity rates returned to 1996 levels.

The supplement also highlights nonprofits that are working to make a difference in improving Colorados health. They include The Youth Foundation in Eagle County, which uses an evidence-based program to increase the level of physical activity among at-risk K-8 children. We also highlight Mental Health First Aid Colorado, which focuses on increasing literacy and awareness about mental illness, reducing social stigma and supporting the community with tools for coping with mental illness.

A vast majority of us arent destined to win the Final Four or an Academy Award, but striving for the goal of being No. 1 in these key measures of health is worth doing and within reach. And it can be achieved through the individual and team efforts of Coloradans if work together.

Michele Lueck is president and CEO of Colorado Health Institute.