By Burt Hubbard
Douglas County has regained its title as the healthiest county in Colorado, supplanting Pitkin County, home to Aspen, according to a new report released Wednesday.
The least healthy counties were in the San Luis Valley and southeastern plains. Huerfano County ranked last, followed by Costilla and Rio Grande counties.
The 2016 annual County Health Rankings were compiled by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. It ranks 60 of the state’s 64 counties based on more than 30 health and demographic measures, ranging from premature deaths to obesity and exercise. There was not enough data to rank the other four small counties.
The data comes from a variety of government sources and includes health surveys and statistical data.
Overall, Colorado usually ranks as one of the healthiest states in the U.S., said Janna West Kowalski, community coach with County Health Rankings & Roadmaps. But the report shows wide variations by county, she noted.
“Where we live matters to our health,” Kowalski said.
Douglas and Broomfield counties emerged as the two healthiest in Colorado. They are also among the richest counties. Pitkin, which was the healthiest county a year ago, dropped to third.
Generally, the healthiest counties were on the Western Slope, with five of the top 10 in ski country. Even in the metro areas, rankings varied widely by county. Boulder County was the fourth healthiest, but Denver ranked 43rd overall and Adams County ranked 37th.
Kowalski said the rankings take into account both health issues and demographics.
“Those social and economic factors have a big influence on overall health,” she said.
A major component of the rankings is years lost to premature death, defined as dying before 75 years of age. It is calculated as years lost per 100,000 residents. They range from under 4,000 years per 100,000 people in Pitkin, Douglas and Summit counties, to more than 10,000 years in the rural counties of Huerfano, Rio Grande and Otero, the report found.
Kowalski said that, in general, rural counties have seen an increase in premature deaths over the past decade due to factors such as high smoking, obesity and poverty rates.
“That’s something we really want to pay attention to in Colorado, given the number of rural counties,” she said.
The data can also send warning signs to community leaders, she said. The ski counties tend to be among the healthiest in the state, but they are also leaders in binge drinking, the report showed. Almost one in four adults surveyed in Eagle, Summit, Routt and Gunnison counties admitted that they drink excessively. That’s almost double the rate in Costilla and Huerfano counties.
“Certainly on the Western Slope, they would want to take a closer look at binge drinking,” Kowalski said.
She said that some counties have used the report to galvanize residents to rally around ways to improve health conditions.
“They use the rankings to start conversations, pull community members together, and then work together to identify priority areas and then strategies to improve overall health,” Kowalski said.
The County Health Rankings website includes strategies that have been successful in improving public health conditions, she said.
The report also found major differences by county in different health categories. They include: