Health Successes- Denver has seen several major public health successes. The three leading causes of death: cardiovascular disease, cancer and injuries, continue to decrease. Decreases in cancer deaths are linked to reductions in tobacco use over the past 20 years, and to improvements in screening tests for detecting cancer at the earlier stages when treatment is more effective. The rates of homicide and deaths from motor vehicle accidents have substantially declined. Deaths attributed to infectious diseases such as HIV have declined, and new HIV infections have decreased, as effective treatment has improved the health of those with HIV and reduced the risk of spreading the virus.
There have also been improvements in the quality of the environment, which has a strong impact on health. Denver’s air and water quality continue to improve, and there have been notable improvements in the built environment. Many more miles of bike lanes have been added in recent years, and more Denver residents are now able to walk, ride bicycles, and use parks and recreation spaces than ever before.
Health Concerns- The Health of Denver 2011 report revealed several major areas of health concern in Denver, including access to health care, mental health, substance abuse, and obesity. Many of the strategies for preventing common illnesses, such as detecting and treating high blood pressure to prevent heart disease, require access to care. Yet one in five Denver residents lack health coverage, and one in 10 is underinsured with health insurance plans that do not cover the costs of necessary medical expenses and leave them with high out-of-pocket costs for co-pays and deductibles.
Mental illness and substance abuse are common among Denver residents. Denver’s suicide rate (17.4 per 100,000 residents) is well above the national average (11.5 per 100,000 residents), yet access to mental health care and substance abuse treatment remains very limited. Mental illness and suicide are a concern for Denver’s children. Approximately with 25% of middle and high school students at Denver Public Schools (DPS) having reported feeling depressed and 13% having seriously considered suicide during the 2011/2012 school year.
Alcohol and prescription drug abuse use are also worrisome trends. Youth substance use is prevalent in Denver, with 28% of middle and high school students at DPS reporting alcohol use and 19% reporting marijuana use in the past month.
Although Denver’s rates of overweight and obese adults are lower than for the US as a whole, its rates for children are similar to the national rates, and will soon translate into higher rates for all age groups unless action is taken to reverse the trends. During the 2012/2013 school year, 31% of Denver’s school-aged children (kindergarten through 9th grade) were overweight or obese, consistent with the national average of 33%.
The percentage of obese adults in Denver more than doubled in the last two decades, from less than 10% in 1990 to 20% in 2009. More than one-third of Denver adults were overweight in 2009, meaning that more than half of all adults were at an unhealthy weight, either obese or overweight.