Lake County youth are more likely to eat breakfast relative to their Colorado peers. However, marijuana use among Lake County youth remains above the national average, and female high school students are twice as likely to attempt suicide compared to their male peers. These are just a few recent insights about the health of Lake County youth from the 2015 Lake County Risk Assessment, an exhaustive analysis of local youth health data published every two years by Lake County Build a Generation.

Highlights from the 2015 report include the following:

Lake County youth more likely to eat breakfast, exercise

Percentages of Lake County High School students who ate breakfast daily in 2012, 2014, 2015 compared to 2015 Colorado average

Percentages of Lake County Middle School students who ate breakfast daily in 2012, 2014, 2015 compared to 2015 Colorado average

Last year, nearly 70 percent of Lake County middle schoolers and 46 percent of high schoolers reported eating breakfast daily, up significantly from 2014 figures, and 15 and 7 percentage points above the 2015 state average, respectively. This change follows Lake County School District’s implementation of Breakfast After the Bell, a program that provides free breakfast to all students regardless of income status.

“Academic research shows that eating breakfast improves student attendance and academic performance,” said Kerri Quinlan, health and wellness coordinator at Lake County School District. “Our records show that, since the assessment data was collected last fall, between 70 and 80 percent of students at Lake County High School participated in the breakfast program this past year. We are excited to see that through increased access, more Lake County students eat breakfast on a daily basis, which we know not only supports nutritional well-being, but social and academic successes as well.”  

Lake County data for other measures of healthy eating and active living were mixed for 2015. Regional data for Lake and Chaffee counties shows that youth got more exercise than their peers in Pitkin, Eagle and Summit counties. However, Lake County high schoolers were significantly more likely (about 10 percentage points) to consume soda compared to their peers statewide.

Youth less likely to view marijuana use as risky

Data for past 30-day marijuana use for 8th-, 10th- and 12th-graders in Lake County and nationally, 2008-2014

2016_LCBAG-Risk-Assessment_UpdatedFinal While alcohol continues to be the drug of choice for Lake County youth, marijuana use remains well above the national average for both middle and high school students – 6 to 18 percentage points in 2014.

Youth marijuana use is of particular concern because a growing body of research suggests that developing adolescent brains may react differently to substances such as marijuana. According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment, youth who use marijuana regularly are more likely to have a harder time with learning and memory, to score lower on math and reading tests, and to become addicted.

New data for 2015, released just after the publication of the Risk Assessment (in May 2016), shows that marijuana use among Lake County eighth-graders, currently at 18 percent, is the highest it has been since 2000. However, increased youth marijuana use appears to be an issue throughout the resort region:  Lake County youth marijuana use was actually lower than in neighboring Pitkin, Eagle and Summit counties and about the same as Chaffee County in 2015.

The fact that Lake County youth are less likely to see marijuana as harmful (compared to their peers statewide) could be a contributing factor to rising use. Research indicates that youth are more likely to use substances they perceive as less harmful. In 2015, Lake County middle schoolers were less likely (10 to 24 percentage points) to say that regular marijuana, tobacco and alcohol use creates moderate to great risk of harming oneself, compared to the state average. Statewide, fewer high school and middle school youth saw regular marijuana use as risky in 2015 compared to 2013.

The increase in marijuana use and decrease in perception of harm among Lake County middle schoolers are particularly interesting as the data collection comes on the heels of the passing of Amendment 64, an amendment to the Colorado constitution that legalized the recreational use and sale of marijuana.

“As we learn more about the possible correlation between the legalization of marijuana and youth substance use,” said John Nelson, Lake County Build a Generation Communities that Care coordinator, “we hope to better inform our state and local policy makers to ensure future public policy supports the needs and well-being of youth in our community.”

Depression, suicide attempts above state average

Lake County middle schoolers experienced prolonged feelings of sadness/hopelessness, made plans for suicide, or attempted suicide at or below state averages in 2015. However, these rates for Lake County high schoolers were consistently higher than U.S. and Colorado averages. The Lake County Risk Assessment considers these three measures as key community-level indicators of mental health.

Rates for feeling sad or hopeless increased from 2014 to 2015 among all Lake County ninth- through 12th-graders; however, female students were twice as likely than their male peers to report prolonged feelings of sadness and to attempt suicide. This finding is consistent with state and national trends. The adolescent suicide risk brief report from Healthy Kids Colorado Survey explains, “Although males are more likely to die by suicide as compared to females at any age, females are more likely to have suicide attempts resulting in hospitalization and are hospitalized at 50 percent higher rates than males in Colorado.”

The report also notes that Colorado has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation among both adults and adolescents, with Lake County ranking among the top six counties statewide for adolescent suicide attempts.

“The Lake County mental health data, particularly the disproportionate rates of depression and suicide attempts among female youth, are concerning because data analysis shows significant association between these three mental health indicators and risk behaviors like bullying, dating and physical violence, and alcohol and drug use,” said Katie Baldassar, director of Lake County Build a Generation. “The more we can understand trends in social-emotional health, the more we can develop and strengthen coordinated community prevention efforts to address all youth risk behaviors.”

2015 Risk Assessment process

The data for the 2015 Lake County Risk Assessment was first reviewed and analyzed by Lake County Build a Generation staff and Lake County High School statistics students (with the guidance of statistics teacher Karl Remsen). Many community leaders—including representatives from education, nonprofit and government sectors—also provided their insights at the 2015 Data Summit.

All of these observations were then compiled into the 2015 Lake County Risk Assessment. This report assesses risk and protective factors for youth in Lake County in order to pinpoint focus areas for prevention efforts. It is organized around five main themes: alcohol; marijuana, tobacco and other drugs; violence and crime; health and safety; and education.

Much of the youth data in this report comes from the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, a tool administered in the Lake County School District every two years. This survey is the largest adolescent health survey in the state and the nation, and was developed as a joint project between three state departments (education, human services and health).

Read the entire 2015 Lake County Risk Assessment.

Intervention and prevention efforts

As part of its mission to organize Lake County to create a healthier community for youth and families, Lake County Build a Generation coordinates the Youth Master Plan Coalition. The Youth Master Plan Coalition houses a number of action teams that bring together youth, community members, and representatives of various local nonprofits and government agencies to address issues raised in the 2015 Risk Assessment. Current action teams range from a Food Access Coalition to an Alcohol and Marijuana Action Team. To learn more or get involved, visit lcbag.org or call 719-486-4114.