New report compares Mesa County health with most other Colorado counties

A newly released national report has given Mesa County health officials one more way to measure the health of county residents.

The report, released by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is the first of its kind to compare the health of residents of different Colorado counties.

The study ranks the health of Mesa County residents as compared to residents of 55 other counties in the state. Eight Colorado counties with limited population were not included in the study.

Mesa County ranks 30th in health outcomes (a snapshot of how healthy residents are) and 25th in health factors (how healthy we can be).

The report used 28 factors to measure health.

Data in the report may be a bit misleading because it was collected between 2002 and 2008 and may not reflect the most current data, said spokeswoman Kristy Emerson of the Mesa County Health Department.

Some of the report’s findings were expected, county officials said.

Already on the radar is that Mesa County has a teen birth rate that is higher than some other places, increased rates of chlamydia and higher rates of fatal motor vehicle crashes, Emerson said.

Mesa County ranked 41st in the category of health behaviors, with those factors (birth rate, etc.) playing into the ratings.

However, the county’s ranking for health behaviors may have been better if newer data had been considered or if the data were compared to overall state numbers, Emerson said.

For example, the numbers of teens giving birth in Mesa County is on the decline.

In 2007, for every 1,000 babies born to adults, 49.3 babies were born to teens age 15 to 19. The state’s rate that year was 38.1 babies born to teens per 1,000 babies born to adults.

In 2008, the county’s teen birth rate dropped to 42.5 babies per 1,000, and the state’s rate was 37.2 babies per 1,000.

“It is important to know we’re looking at one year compared to the next,” Emerson said. “We do know that those numbers have gone down and we’re glad to see those numbers go down.”

In another area of the study, Mesa County garnered the top spot among the state’s counties in the area of clinical care, which includes factors such as access to care and quality of care.

“We know that we’ve done well in that area and we’ve gotten a lot of recognition for our lengths of hospital stays, Rocky Mountain Health Plans and hospice,” Emerson said.

Data, such as what was recently released, tend to be used by health officials to make changes.

For example, Mesa County and Colorado were identified as having high rates of suicide.

In 1999, state officials created the Office of Suicide Prevention, and Mesa County has a Suicide Prevention Coalition. From 1990 to 1998, the suicide rate in Colorado was 16.8 suicides per 100,000 residents.

In the nine years after the program started — 1999 to 2007 — the state’s suicide rate dropped to 15.7 people per 100,000 people, according to the statements from the state program.

Mesa County currently is experiencing higher unemployment numbers than the rest of the state, which may be a factor in the health of county residents.

In general, counties with the highest marks in the study tend to be the most affluent counties, Emerson said.

“This is not a snapshot of right now. If it were, things would be very different,” she said. “The data is good but we’re also looking at it retrospectively.”

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