Colorado’s “healthy” status may decline
About half of a person’s health and well-being is determined by the “lottery of life,” and in Colorado, the gap between the wealthy and the poor continues to widen.
Without greater investment in housing, food programs and health care for impoverished and minority Coloradans, the state’s status as the healthiest in the nation will dwindle, says a new report from the Colorado Center on Law and Policy.
“Colorado has this reputation of being a pretty healthy state,” said Michelle Webster, manager of research and policy analysis for the center. “But if you dig a little deeper, you can see there are enormous disparities that are highly related to your income and where you live.”
The 25 percent of Coloradans with the most income live six to 10 years longer than the bottom 25 percent, the “Vital Signs” study found. The research found that what matters most, when it comes to health, is the family a person is born into, the schools they attend and where they play — all of which are related to ethnicity and income.
“Life is more difficult when you don’t have enough money to meet your basic needs,” Webster said. “Maybe you are working multiple jobs and juggling inconsistent schedules. Life is more stressful and more difficult, and it takes a toll on adults and children.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that physicians screen for “poverty” because of its long-lasting health effects on children.
Colorado also is becoming more multiracial. In 2000, about 25 percent of the state’s population was non-white. That is expected to increase to 45 percent by 2040. This is significant because of “persistent racial gaps in income, employment, opportunity and ultimately health” between whites and people of color, according to the report.
Income is the reason for at least 50 percent of the differences in life expectancy between whites and blacks, said the center’s report, quoting Princeton University research.
The report also found that whether people live in urban or rural Colorado can affect their odds of good health.
Pitkin, Eagle, Grand, Larimer and Douglas were among the healthiest counties, accounting for premature death, low birth weight, and poor physical and mental health days. Those among the unhealthiest were Pueblo, Prowers, Baca and Las Animas.
The research, released just ahead of the 2017 legislative session, is meant to bring attention to programs intended to draw people out of poverty, including affordable housing.
“The larger point is that policies that ensure economic stability for families are really public health policies,” Webster said. “We shouldn’t think about income-related policies as only impacting the economy. They impact the health and well-being of our community.”