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Posted: December 21, 2011

Colorado’s health: How employers can help

Start with wellness programs

Christopher Stanley

When it comes to overall health, Colorado ranks among the best in the nation.

That's according to the 22nd annual America's Health Rankings from United Health Foundation. The report, the longest running of its kind in the country, placed Colorado No. 9 among all 50 states for overall heath, up four spots from last year.

Here's a snapshot of how Colorado fared in this year's report:

Colorado's Strengths
• Low levels of air pollution
• Lower prevalence of obesity than any other state
• Low prevalence of diabetes

Colorado's Challenges
• Low use of early prenatal care
• High geographic disparity, in terms of access to care, within the state
• Low immunization coverage

Colorado residents are getting many things right. While we should take a moment to congratulate ourselves for these successes, we can't take continued progress for granted. Significant challenges remain-challenges that local businesses and employers can help address.

When United Health Foundation first began ranking American's health in 1990, smoking represented one such challenge. Nearly three in 10 Coloradoans smoked regularly. But education brought greater understanding of the risks associated with lighting up. We turned attitudes against it, and today, just 16 percent of Coloradoans self-report as smokers. Change is indeed possible, in the process helping many people improve their health and well-being and saving millions of dollars in health care costs.

On the other hand, despite Colorado having the lowest obesity rate in the nation, too many Colorado residents are still considered overweight or obese - and the trend is getting worse. More than 20 percent of Colorado residents are above what is considered by health experts to be a normal weight, compared with 6 percent when the rankings began.

How can you, as an employer or small business, help? Consider offering on-site wellness programs for employees such as biometric screenings, health fairs or walking groups. And encourage workers to participate in wellness programs by offering incentives such as gift cards, lower health insurance premiums, cash bonuses, discounts and contributions to health savings accounts. Participation rates in wellness programs more than double when employers offer incentives.

Through this report and other efforts, our mutual goal should be to make Colorado one of the healthiest states in the nation. Together, we can break down barriers to high-quality care. We can take on obesity as we took on smoking. And we can win. It will take work, certainly, and time, but our health is worth that effort.

For more information about America's Health Rankings, please go to www.americashealthrankings.org .
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Christopher Stanley, MD, MBA, is the senior medical director for UnitedHealthcare's Rocky Mountain Region. His responsibilities range from patient care, staff supervision and physician relations. Dr. Stanley's focus is to enhance the delivery of high-quality, efficient health care for UnitedHealthcare's members, both inside and outside the hospital.

He previously served as director of medical science liaisons for Schering-Plough Pharmaceuticals. Dr. Stanley is also a board-certified pediatrician who practiced medicine for more than nine years in Germany and Denver.

Enjoy this article? Sign up to get ColoradoBiz Exclusives. The opinions expressed in this article are solely that of the author and do not represent ColoradoBiz magazine. Comments on articles will be removed if they include personal attacks.

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