Newly released data from the Department of Health show that most Vermont adults report they are in good health, according to a news release Feb. 16. Over the last decade, adults have taken steps to reduce health risks and increase preventive behaviors.
At the same time, disparities highlight the public health challenges Vermont continues to face. Vermont adults also report increased use of cannabis, and the number of adults reporting poor mental health has gradually gone up over the last decade.
The data comes from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), an annual survey that tracks adult health-related behaviors, chronic health conditions and use of preventive services. Results from the 2021 survey of 6,580 adults include new data on regular caregiving, intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and Covid-19 immunizations.
“Collecting and analyzing data on Vermonters’ health is critical to understanding how we can improve health outcomes,” said Health Commissioner Mark Levine. “This survey data may begin to reflect changes as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, which we will closely monitor moving forward. As the pandemic made clear: while we are a healthy state overall, we must focus on reducing health disparities in all areas of our work — to give all Vermonters a fair and just opportunity to be healthy.”
The survey found that most adults report good to excellent health, with one in eight (12%) reporting only fair or poor health. The report also confirms ongoing and concerning disparities in health status exist: 20% of Vermonters with lower education levels, 32% with low income, and 34% of those with a disability reported fair or poor health.
Compared to the U.S., the rates of chronic kidney disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, obesity and overweight are statistically lower, and Vermont adults are more likely to engage in physical activity.
Most adults report having access to health care (94% of those 18 to 64 have a health plan) and a personal health care provider (90%). Only 6% report they delay going to the doctor due to cost. Disparities exist here as well, with BIPOC adults (11%), LGBTQ+ adults (13%), and adults with a disability (12%) reporting delays due to cost.
Mental health and safety
Vermont adults reporting poor mental health has significantly increased over the last decade: 11% in 2011 compared to 16% in 2021. One in six Vermont adults report poor mental health, with disparities reported among younger adults (26%), adults with lower education or income (21% and 33% respectively), LGBTQ+ adults (31%) and adults with a disability (33%).
Vermonters also report a higher rate of depressive disorder than U.S. adults (25% vs. 19%).
Six percent of Vermont adults have seriously considered suicide, with considerable disparities among younger adults (16%), adults with lower education or income (9% and 10%, respectively) LGBTQ+ adults (14%) and adults with a disability (11%).
Alcohol, tobacco and cannabis
More Vermont adults are using cannabis than in past years, with a significant increase in just one year, from 18% in 2020 to 22% in 2021. The survey revealed most adults use cannabis for non-medical reasons (45%). A lower percentage of users reported using it for both medical and non-medical use (39%), while 16% said their use was mainly for medical reasons.
Reported consumption of alcohol and cigarettes has remained relatively steady in recent years but is statistically higher when compared to U.S. rates. More than six in 10 Vermont adults had any alcohol in the past month (61%) compared to 52% of U.S. adults. One in six Vermont adults report smoking cigarettes (16%) compared to the 14% of all U.S. adults. However, e-cigarette use is statistically lower among Vermont adults (5%) than U.S. adults (7%).
Additional BRFSS highlights:
• When asked about caregiving, 18% of Vermont adults report providing regular care or assistance to a friend or family member with a health problem or disability in the past month.
• 15% of Vermont adults report that an intimate partner has ever physically hurt them.
• More than seven in 10 Vermonters ages 65+ had a flu vaccine in the past year (73%), statistically higher when compared to the same age group across the U.S. (68%).
To see the BRFSS highlights and full reports, visit healthvermont.gov/brfss.