jeffco

Public health looks to improve county lifestyle

Health improvement plan in the works for low income families

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Jefferson County Public Health is showing dedication to the well-being of county residents through a community health improvement plan. The plan, CHIP for short, is based on a recently completed health assessment that gave public health workers a personalized look into the county’s health status.

The undertaking took a little over a year but upon completion Jeffco Public Health released a 76-page county health assessment detailing the components of health and reporting the latest county health stats including triumphs and failings.

“We have a lot of work to do to educate the community of what we need to be doing and work together so that we can improve our rates,” said Ana Marin Cachu, epidemiologist for Jeffco Public Health.

Obesity rates for adults in Jeffco have grown 58 percent in the last 10 years, according to the assessment.

“What we know is that chronic disease in the population is going up very quickly and Jefferson County is not the exception,” Cachu said. “Our obesity rates are lower than the nation but that doesn’t mean they are not going up.”

Diabetes in adults has grown an alarming 89 percent as well in the last 10 years.

Cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes are the top three leading causes of death for Jeffco citizens.

But as Cachu pointed out, data collected revealed the county’s health problems but did little to provide any solutions. That is where CHIP can help improve things with the help of many county partners including local hospitals, Jeffco Center for Mental Health, Jeffco Open Space, grocery stores and local recreation centers.

“We really looked at what are the underlying risk factors for these diseases,” Erika Jerme, health planner at Jeffco Public Health said. After meeting with county partners and receiving community input, county public health was able to narrow underlying risks to three factors; lack of exercise, poor diet and psychosocial stresses. In fact the assessment revealed that 40 percent of our health is based on our social surroundings and economic opportunities.

“Our health starts in the places where we live, learn, work and play,” Jerme said. “So many little decisions we make in our day over our life span shape our health.”

Although it is the goal of Jeffco Public Health to implement CHIP in a way to improve everyone’s health, the assessment showed that low-income families with children ages 0 to 18 are at the greatest risk for developing diabetes, obesity, cancer or cardiovascular disease due to poor diet, lack of exercise and psychosocial stressors. County health officials like Jerme and their partners are looking for ways to provide resources and better opportunities for low income families along with a few basic improvements that help lead the way toward a healthier lifestyle.

“Lower income schools are less like to have water fountains,” Jerme said. “If kids don’t have access to a free source of clean drinking water during the day they’re more like to turn to sodas or other sugary drinks,” she said adding that CHIP will work toward laying out strategies and building relationships with schools to discuss these issues.

“Investing in the health of children will help set these children up for a lifetime of better health,” Jerme said.

Jeffco Public Health hopes to have an action plan by the summer but will continue to work with partners this year to organize strategies for CHIP.

For more information about CHIP and to access the county health assessment visit the Healthy People Healthy Places Jeffco website.