El Paso Co. falls in health rankings

By: Kassondra Cloos kassondra.cloos@gazette.com
April 29, 2013

El Paso County ranked 34th in Colorado for health in the 2013 County Health Rankings and Roadmaps report.

The county's position fell from last year, when it was ranked No. 30. Jill Law, public health director at El Paso County Public Health, said the rankings are more of a tool to show areas for improvement than an indication of exactly how healthy people are from one county to the next.

'These health rankings are really designed for us to look at a global approach to issues of health in all of our communities, ' she said. 'Of course, I look at certain data sets and recognize there are certain problems and issues we need to work on. '

Two top issues include mental health and obesity, which Law said are significant problems in El Paso County. Obesity doubled in El Paso County from 1995 to 2010, Law said. The county is working on educational programs and campaigns to help people live healthier, more active lives.

This year's rankings report showed 21 percent of the adult population in El Paso County is considered to be obese. That's just a bit higher than the state average of 20 percent, but Colorado is faring well compared to other states. Only 10 percent of states, including Colorado, have levels of adult obesity less than 25 percent, according the report.

'There certainly are other states or other counties who have higher obesity rates, ' Law said. 'But we shouldn't be in the business of trying to say, 'Just because we have this much obesity, it is OK.' '

The report shows that 19 percent of El Paso County adults smoke.

Law said what's most concerning to her is the number of adolescent smokers. That number wasn't included in the Rankings and Roadmaps report, but El Paso County's own report of health indicators, from 2012, showed 17.7 percent of Colorado high school students reported 'recent use of cigarettes. '

'The goal for our community is to be smoke-free, ' Law said.

Other things that contributed to El Paso County's ranking were its above-average rate of violent crimes - 481 per 100,000 people - and more than half of its restaurants being categorized as 'fast food. '

The report also considered factors that may influence health, including rates of unemployment, high school graduation and college education, teen pregnancy and child poverty.

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