Data Matters: The Healthy Kids Colorado Survey

Curious whether more high school students are using marijuana now that retail sales are legal? Check the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey.

Wondering how many hours of screen time they are getting each week? Check the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey.

Interested in where in the state teens are most physically active? Check the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey.

Here at the Colorado Health Institute, we’ve done just that. A CHI team tapped the data to create a series of dashboards accompanied by in-depth analyses. We’ve found positive trends in what Colorado teens are up to when it comes to health, as well as cautionary tales.

The biennial survey, administered in 2013 and 2015, has emerged as the state’s most reliable source of information about the health and well-being of Colorado’s middle and high school students. The wide range of topics covered in the survey includes tobacco use, physical activity and drug use.

Participation is voluntary. Students can decline participation, and parents can decline to have their children participate. It is also anonymous.

But this survey and its partner survey, the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), a nationwide survey of adults and their health behaviors, are both at risk. The latest developments:

  • A 3-3 tie vote along party lines in the Joint Budget Committee left the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey without state funding. The $745,000 request for money from the Marijuana Tax Cash Fund (no General Fund dollars are used) could be added later through amendments.
  • The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), which administers both surveys, received just 15 percent of the funding it sought from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct the BRFSS.
  • The BRFSS is partly funded by a mix of state and federal resources, including the federal Prevention and Public Health Fund. The latest health reform proposal from Congress repeals the fund beginning October 1, 2018, leaving a hole that both states and the federal government would struggle to fill.

While CHI is nonpartisan when it comes to health proposals, we do strongly believe that sound data ­ – the sort of data contained in both surveys – are required to support policy decisions that help make Coloradans healthier.

Here’s a sampling of what we’ve learned from the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey.

Teens who have a trusted adult to go to for help with a serious problem are 3.5 times less likely to attempt suicide. Less than three of four (71.3 percent) Colorado high schoolers report having an adult that fills that role.

On nearly every facet of the survey – including sexual violence, bullying and suicide – Colorado’s lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB) students report more negative outcomes than heterosexual students.

Racial and ethnic minorities also have worse outcomes than white students in many categories, such as rates of marijuana use: 28 percent of multiracial students used marijuana in the past month, compared with 24 percent of Hispanic students and 20 percent of white students.

The dashboards, developed by CHI’s Data Visualization and Policy Analyst Chrissy Esposito, also display regional differences and identify changes between the 2013 and 2015 surveys.

These data help policymakers, educators, parents, state and local agencies, and many communities improve healthy decision-making for Colorado’s teens, by helping identify policies that will set youth up for healthy and productive futures.

That’s not just good for them. It’s good for all of us.   

Teresa Manocchio joined the Colorado Health Institute in January 2017 as a policy analyst. At CHI, she researches and analyzes issues that impact population health, including behavioral health and other public health priorities.