Data Sense: Health rankings place Routt County in top 10

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— Current discussions around government-funded health care raise fundamental questions about the cost and availability of health care. Who should have access to what type of health care, and who should pay? These questions unfortunately cannot be answered by simply examining data. But the debate also raises questions about our current state of health. How healthy are we, and what is the quality of our health care? These questions can be answered by examining data.

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Brandon Owens

Data Sense

This monthly column is written by Yampa Valley Data Partners. It publishes on the first Sunday of the month in the Steamboat Pilot & Today. Read more columns here.

Colorado counties by health rank

1. Pitkin

2. Douglas

3. Eagle

4. Summit

5. Boulder

6. La Plata

7. Yuma

8. Broomfield

9. Larimer

10. Routt

Source: 2013 County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, www.countyhealthrankings.org

The County Health Rankings data set provides county-level rankings across a range of health categories for every county in the country. The data is available through the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program, which is a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. The County Health Rankings are intended help counties understand what influences how healthy residents are and how long they will live. The rankings look at a variety of measures that affect health such as the rate of people dying before age 75, high school graduation rates, unemployment, access to healthy foods, air and water quality, income, and rates of smoking, obesity and teen births.

The 2013 data reveals what local residents already know: When it comes to healthy living, Routt County is pretty darn good. The 2013 data set places Routt County 10th out of 59 ranked counties in Colorado. Routt has held this position in the rankings since 2011. The top-ranked counties in Colorado are Pitkin, Douglas and Eagle. The lowest-ranked counties in Colorado are Huerfano, Baca and Las Animas. The lowest-ranked counties in Colorado are clustered in the southeast corner of the state.

An examination of the data provides additional insight on what’s going right in Routt and what factors have room for improvement. Routt ranked in the top five statewide in the morbidity, health behaviors, clinical care and physical environment categories. This means that on average, the Routt County population is in good physical condition, has healthy behaviors, has access to quality health care and is surrounded by an excellent physical environment.

Interestingly, the physical health of residents was high enough to enable a high state ranking in the healthy behaviors category even though the percent of population reporting excessive drinking is 31 percent, nearly double the Colorado state average of 16 percent.

There also is room for improvement in the mortality category, where Routt was ranked 21st out of the 59 ranked counties. This category measures the premature death rate in terms of years of potential life lost due to death before the age of 75 per 100,000 people. So while Routt is near the top of the list in healthy living, the county is not near the top when it comes to longevity.

In the midst of the national debate on health care, Routt County residents can take some solace because the latest data indicates that whatever we’re doing here in Routt is producing pretty good results in terms of health outcomes.

Brandon Owens is an independent contractor who peforms data analysis for Yampa Valley Data Partners.

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