Douglas County named healthiest county in Colorado

Jessica Gibbs
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By Jessica Gibbs / NewsBreak Denver | May 26, 2022

(Douglas County, Colo.) Douglas County has been ranked as the healthiest county in Colorado, a title it has landed numerous times throughout the past decade.

The University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute creates the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps report with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The institute’s 2022 report, which relies on several years of data, came out in May and dubbed Douglas County the state’s healthiest.

The affluent suburban county home to 379,000 people has ranked as one of the top two healthiest counties in Colorado since 2011.

Researchers analyze a wide range of factors such as county residents’ access to healthcare, educational attainment, income levels, lifestyles and environment. The report strives to illustrate what influences how long a person lives, as well as quality of life.

About 98% of Douglas County residents 25 and older completed high school, and 87% of people ages 25 to 44 have attained some college education, according to data assessed in the report.

About 10% of people in the county experience “severe housing problems,” which the report defines as a household having one of four housing issues: overcrowding, high housing costs, lack of kitchen facilities or lack of plumbing.

Most people in Douglas County have health insurance. About 4% of people under the age of 65 were uninsured, according to 2019 data analyzed for the report. Less than 10% of adults in the county report poor or fair health.

About 10% of the adult population smoke, 19% of adults report excessive drinking, 21% of adults in the county are obese and 91% of people have access to places where they can exercise.

Douglas County Commissioner Abe Laydon said the news was no surprise. Douglas County is often recognized as one of the healthiest counties in Colorado on both state and national rankings, he said.

“I have to give all the credit to our remarkable citizens and businesses that made this happen,” he said. “All of these metrics come back significantly high, come back extremely high, as a result of the behaviors and activities of our community.”

Laydon said strong budgeting and public policy contribute to the county’s healthy status. The county is debt free and prioritizing tax cuts for residents, he said.

During the pandemic, the county became a hotbed of controversy as its conservative leadership largely opposed shutdowns and masking mandates after the initial waves of COVID-19. Laydon stood by those policies.

“I believe that our public policy around saving both lives and livelihoods led to some significant outcomes in terms of employment trends and people returning back to the workforce quickly,” Laydon said. “Having a job and reliable employment options leads to a lot of socioeconomic factors such as being able to afford to live in Douglas County, being able to care for a family here.”

In Douglas County, 465 people have died from COVID-19, more than 2,780 people were hospitalized and 83,286 people contracted the virus, according to data from the Tri-County Health Department.

Laydon said one of the county’s “worst-kept secrets” is another key factor in its healthy rankings: that 50% of Douglas County is dedicated open space. That gives residents ample access to the outdoors and recreational activity, he said, and is a draw for people who move to the area.

Laydon said the county’s ability to attract multi-million dollar companies helps boost the county’s ranking, because it brings jobs to the area and career-driven residents.

“We see that from a lot of sectors, from IT to aerospace,” Laydon said. “The people they want to recruit want to live in this county.”

Douglas County is one of the nation’s most affluent — a common denominator among counties that rank highly for health metrics.

Douglas County’s median household income is $122,300, compared to $77,700 at the state level, according to data used in the 2022 healthy counties report. About 12% of children are eligible for free or reduced lunch, while 41% of students for Colorado as a whole.

The necessary living wage in Douglas County is the sixth highest in Colorado at $46.71, according to the report.

The institute’s report for Colorado says economic security is “key to thriving communities.” When they have economic security, families can cover basic needs such as housing, education, childcare, food and medical care.

“Each of these has demonstrated ties to health,” the report states.

The analysis also ranks Colorado counties by the financial burden childcare poses to residents, measuring the percentage of a household income needed to pay for childcare.

Douglas County was one of the five Colorado counties with the least child care cost burden. About 20% of a household’s income goes toward child care in Douglas County, which also had the lowest child care cost burden among counties in the Denver metro area. The childcare cost burden among Colorado counties ranges from 17% to 44%.

The median household income in Colorado varies by race and ethnicity, spanning from $52,028 for American Indian & Alaska Native households, to $83,168 for Asian households, the report says.

The national report’s key findings showed a typical worker in the U.S. does not make a living wage, gender pay gaps remain especially harmful to the health of working women providing for dependents, many families spend upwards of 25% of their income on childcare and that well-funded schools are critical to providing students a path to healthy and successful lives.

The average living wage is $35.80 in the U.S. for a household with one adult and two children. Living wages differ by location and range from $29.81 an hour to $65.45, the report says. In nearly all U.S. counties, a typical worker’s pay is less than the living wage needed to support one adult with two children in that area.

“Jobs must lift workers out of poverty, not keep them in it,” the report says. “Living wages cover basic needs and are essential to live a healthy life.”

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Jessica Gibbs is a reporter based in the Denver metro area covering Denver and Douglas counties. She has worked in local newsrooms for more than six years as a general assignment and education reporter.

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