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Informing Policy. Advancing Health.

What Can Neighborhoods Tell Us About Childhood Obesity in Denver?

On the ride from my apartment in Uptown to where I volunteer in Lincoln Park, I bike through a number of Denver’s neighborhoods.

I pass the bars and restaurants of Uptown, the construction cranes downtown and the hustle of classes letting out for the day on the Auraria campus. It is always a relief when I turn off Colfax onto Mariposa Street, where on warm nights I can usually hear the sounds of tag and volleyball coming from the front lawn of the after-school program where I volunteer. The weekly bike ride through Denver’s distinct neighborhoods is one of my favorite things about living here.

But we know that Denver’s neighborhoods also differ in their socioeconomic characteristics and the health outcomes of their residents. My Colorado Health Institute colleagues and I were interested in understanding this relationship. As luck would have it, a new data source became available to inform our analysis.

The Colorado BMI Monitoring System aggregates data from clinical records for children ages two to 17 who visited Kaiser Permanente Colorado, Denver Health, Children’s Hospital Colorado, High Plains Community Health Center and Salud Family Health Centers. It is funded by the Colorado Health Foundation and Kaiser Permanente Colorado Community Benefit.

We found profound differences between Denver’s neighborhoods when delving into these data – which are available at the U.S. Census Tract level to provide a more granular understanding. There are nearly 25 points between the lowest obesity rate of 1.5 percent in the University neighborhood and the highest of 26.4 percent In Five Points.  

We wanted to go further to understand what about these neighborhoods might be associated with these stark differences. We used community characteristic data collected by Nielsen consumer surveys to analyze factors driving the range in rates. This story map – Denver’s Kids: The Link Between Neighborhoods and Obesity – details four factors we found to be most highly associated with child obesity in Denver. They are Hispanic ethnicity, limited education, median household value and family income. You can click around the story map to see the data for each of Denver’s census tracts.

The release of this story map coincides with the Colorado Health Foundation’s 2016 Symposium theme “Health Is Everyone’s Business.” The conversation at Keystone is all about how communities can improve health by addressing the social determinants.

We want this tool to support these conversations with local level data so that all of Denver’s kids, regardless of where they live, have opportunities to lead healthy lives.