Colorado’s largest minority groups lag behind in important measures of health

Carolyn Chen, Isaac Cabanas-Saucedo, Sandra SaucedoThe past 50 years have seen tremendous advances in medicine and corresponding advances in everything from disease control to life expectancy.

But Hispanics and blacks in Colorado have not enjoyed the same benefits as whites, and today the two groups lag behind in one critical measure of health after another.

Hispanics, for example, have the highest rate of cervical cancer and other diseases and are above the state average in diabetes and chronic liver and kidney disease. The disparities are even more stark for Colorado’s African American population: Blacks experience an infant mortality rate that is approaching three times that seen among all Coloradans, and they die an average of 3.4 years younger than whites in the state. They lead Colorado in the rates of cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Losing Ground Infant Mortality Rates

This chart shows the infant mortality rate for black, Latino and white residents of Colorado.

“The general statement that I make is, we’re sicker than most and dying sooner than we should,” said Grant Jones, founder and executive director of the Center for African American Health in Denver.

Closing the gaps will be difficult and complicated, because the factors involved go far beyond issues like health insurance — stretching into socio-economic factors that contribute in ways that may not be readily apparent.

But there may be no more telling statistic about racial and ethnic health disparities in the state than the rate of infant mortality –the death of a baby in the first year of life. It is a number often cited to separate developed nations from developing ones, and it is studied extensively because it is seen by many experts as a key measure of overall health.

In the United States, infant mortality has been on a steady decline since 1958. Even so, black babies die at a rate much higher than white babies, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2011, the rate at which black babies died before reaching their first birthday was a little more than twice that of white babies –11.42 deaths for every 1,000 births for African Americans compared to 5.11 deaths for every 1,000 births for Caucasians.

The numbers are starkly worse in Colorado, where African American babies experience 14.5 deaths for each 1,000 births, according to an average of data from 2007 through 2011 calculated by the state health department.  That figure would place black Coloradans between the overall infant mortality rates of China and Colombia, according to a World Bank compilation of health data.

I-News at Rocky Mountain PBS analyzed health disparities as part of its Losing Ground report on the status of Colorado’s largest minority groups. To read more or to download the project e-book, please go to


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