A new report from the Colorado Health Institute warns that climate change is affecting Coloradans’ health — and those effects vary based on where you live, with residents from southeastern Colorado facing the highest risks.
Released Thursday, the report, “Think Globally, Adapt Locally: Colorado Counties Health and Climate Index,” updates the institute’s first look in 2019 at the effects of climate change on health.
“The Health and Climate Index is an important tool for understanding the challenges — and the steps we need to take to address them,” said Karam Ahmad, a senior policy analyst at CHI and co-author of the report. “We hope this project will start necessary conversations and help communities across the state plan to adapt to our changing climate.”
The 2022 version shows that Douglas, Teller, and western Colorado counties face high risk scores for environmental exposure. In southeastern Colorado, Adams County and several western and northeastern counties, the data show their residents also experience high risk scores for health outcomes and access to care. Southeastern Colorado, as well as the San Luis Valley, also encounter high social factor risk scores.
“People of color, immigrant groups, Coloradans with lower incomes, children, and older adults are more likely to suffer from the effects of a changing climate. Social factors and context — like age, poverty, discrimination, education, and access to care — all play a role in a person’s risk of climate-related health consequences,” wrote CHI President and CEO Michele Lueck and Javier Alberto Soto, president and CEO of the Denver Foundation, which funded the study.
Many of the counties where people face the highest risk for health effects from climate change are also the least prepared, according to the report.
In evaluating the various factors, the report looked at the following:
• Social — percentage of population under age 5, age 18 and 65 and older; percentage of population of people of color; percentage of households that fall below the federal poverty level; percentage unemployed or without a high school diploma; percentage of population living in homes built before 1980; and population with either ambulatory or cognitive difficulties.
• Health — percentage of the population with either diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, cardiovascular disease, depression and obesity; and the population percentage of those who don’t have health insurance or who did not get the health care they needed in the past 12 months.
• Climate exposure — number of extreme heat days, defined as 90 degrees or higher; percentage of land rated as moderate or higher risk for wildfires; percentage of weeks that any percentage of the county’s population is in severe, extreme or exceptional drought; and percentage of population in the wildland-urban interface.
• The report also took into account residential perceptions of global warming, including whether they believe it exists.
Almost every county in southeastern Colorado, from Fremont County on the west to the Kansas state line, shows the highest health risk factors.
Meanwhile, in most southeastern counties, 1 in 5 residents do not get the health care they need, the report said.
Other high risk factors, such as populations with COPD, asthma, diabetes, depression, cardiovascular disease and obesity, are also highest in southeastern Colorado.
Counties with populations that have highest recognition of the problems of global warming largely reside along the Front Range, in counties in the Colorado River basin and southwestern Colorado. The most skeptical residents live in counties primarily along the Eastern Plains.
Counties with the highest risk for high-heat days, risk of wildfires and drought are located primarily on the Western Slope.
Poverty as a high-risk factor also shows up most in southern Colorado and in several counties on the Western Slope.