Looking at the results of the 2011 Colorado Health Report Card, I feel like a parent of a “gifted” student who continues to bring home disappointing grades.

Though the Report Card shows the state is making gains in health coverage for kids and vaccinations for older adults, we’ve lost ground in other important areas, including prenatal care (where we rank No. 31 among states) and dental care (where we fell to No. 38).

Even some areas where we performed “well” reveal some troubling trends. 

For example, though Colorado still has the “leanest” adult population, our obesity rate rose from 19 to 22 percent between the 2010 and 2011 Report Cards. With the increase, Colorado loses the distinction of being the only state in the nation with an obesity rate lower than 20 percent. 

Released by the Colorado Health Foundation in collaboration with the Colorado Health Institute, the Report Card tracks 38 health indicators spanning five life stages: Healthy Beginnings, Healthy Children, Healthy Adolescents, Healthy Adults and Healthy Aging.

In general, the grades for the Report Card haven’t changed much since 2006 – which is a problem in and of itself. 

Case in point: The overall grade for Healthy Beginnings (an indicator that measures prenatal care for babies and their mothers) remained unchanged at a mediocre C between 2010 and 2011. The state’s grade for Healthy Children moved from an unacceptably low D+ to a marginally better C-.

At the same time, grades for Healthy Adolescents and Healthy Adults stalled at B- and B respectively. 

Meanwhile, the grade for Healthy Aging (which monitors how Colorado’s older adults compare with peers in other states) fell from an A- to a B.

Though the grades in the most recent Report Card ranged from "good" to "average," it's safe to say they continue to fall short of Colorado's expectations — especially if you keep the Foundation's goal of "making Colorado the healthiest state in the nation" in mind. If left unchanged, the lagging indicators pose significant risks to the health and well being of Coloradans. 

Is this the best Colorado can do? As a state known for its pioneering spirit, innovation and drive, history suggests we can and must do better.

So, with that "call to action," how can Coloradans improve the results of future Report Cards while minding our economic realities in the public and private sectors? Here are a few thoughts:

  • Research shows we can improve our well-being and rein in costs by investing in evidenced-based programs that prevent disease and promote good community health — A recent study estimates that an annual investment of $10 per Coloradan in community-based prevention initiatives could save more than $232 million annually in health care costs after five years – a $5.05 return for every $1 invested. To learn more, read “Prevention: Strong Investments in Colorado’s Health,” a Report Card supplement. 
  • Businesses can help cut costs and improve health by instituting workplace wellness programs (which can include benefits such as health risk assessments, tobacco cessation, nutrition education and gym memberships) — Evidence suggests these kinds of programs can reduce absenteeism and improve profitability. A 2010 study published in the journal Health Affairs showed that for every dollar spent on wellness programs, overall medical costs fell by $3.27. Meanwhile, absenteeism costs were reduced by $2.73 for every dollar spent.
  • Work to address “social determinants to health” such as poverty, access to fresh fruit and vegetables, and safe environments where there are options for physical activity — The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that only 10 percent of health is influenced by health care, with factors such as lifestyle, smoking, obesity and environment rounding out the other 90 percent.

Collaborating with businesses, our nonprofit partners, health care stakeholders and individual Coloradans, we’re hopeful that over time, we’ll be able to proudly post future Report Cards on the state’s proverbial refrigerator — along with the distinction of living in the healthiest state in the nation.