Nov 02, 2010
Death rates from all causes in the four-county redwood region were the highest in the state, 2000-2008, and Humboldt County’s was the highest of all, according to key trend data brought together for the first time by the California Center for Rural Policy at Humboldt State University.
Based on mortality rates per 100,000, Humboldt County’s age-adjusted deaths from all causes peaked at 950 in the years 2003-2005. They tapered off slightly 2006-2008 to just under 950, according to the CCRP’s new centralized database, “Rural Community Vital Signs: Community Health Indicators for the Redwood Coast Region.” Age adjustment accounts for age differences among various communities.
California’s mortality rate per 100,000 dropped to about 675 from 750 in the eight-year period, whereas Humboldt’s hovered at about 950.
Drug-induced deaths soared in Humboldt County throughout the 2000-2008 period, exceeding 35 per 100,000 in the final year. That far outstripped the statewide rate of slightly more than 10. Counterpart rates for the other three area counties are unknown because of unreliable data.
“Tracking the overall death rate is important because it tells us about the overall health of our communities,” says Jessica Van Arsdale, MD, the CCRP’s Director of Health Research.
Overall, for example, nearly 60 percent of adults in the region are either overweight or obese and less than 50 percent meet recommended levels of physical activity. In parallel, obesity is worsening among low-income children, ages two to four years in Mendocino and Trinity Counties, and ages five to 19 in Del Norte, Mendocino and Trinity.
Van Arsdale warns, “Community health in our four counties is in jeopardy because of widespread poverty, limited access to affordable medical care, a shortage of dentists and the poor’s lack of knowledge about healthy diet, among many other factors.”
Although death rates decreased in the eight-year period in Mendocino and Trinity Counties, and in California overall, they were consistently higher in all four counties than in the state as a whole.
Van Arsdale and seven CCRP research assistants integrated 48 community health indicators that provide the first long-term and multi-dimensional picture of Redwood Coast community health. Economic, social, clinical, family and human services perspectives are reflected in the data, as are physical environment, health behaviors and preventive measures like immunizations and diabetes screenings.
• An increase in premature death rates 2000-2007 (years of life lost before age 75) in each county, with Trinity County experiencing the highest increase.
• A growing percentage of live births with low birth weights in all four counties, although the percentage is below California’s in Del Norte, Humboldt and Mendocino Counties.
• A greater likelihood that low-income adults will not receive routine diabetes check-ups and screenings.
• A rising percentage of seniors who report suffering more than one fall in the past year.
Van Arsdale and her researchers also tracked high percentages of low-income adults who are unable to get needed health care. The figure in Del Norte County is an extraordinary 47.2 percent; in Trinity, nearly 32 percent; in Humboldt, fully 30 percent; and in Mendocino, 28.6 percent.
Likewise, low-income children are at high risk: 24.4 percent in Del Norte, 22.8 percent in Humboldt, 19.6 percent in Mendocino and 14.8 percent in Trinity. And except in Del Norte County, childhood immunization rates are consistently lower in the other three counties than in California as a whole. Humboldt County is the lowest at about 80 percent of kindergarteners. One quarter of kindergartners or first graders have untreated dental decay.
The comprehensive data in “Rural Community Vital Signs” are intended to be the framework for future policy decisions and government/community action, Van Arsdale emphasizes. Pulling fine-grained statistics together in one database will help alleviate the region’s fragmented data collection. It is designed to achieve a better prioritization of community health issues.
In Van Arsdale’s words, “These CCRP ‘vital signs’ are health indicators that can act as barometers for underlying community health problems. They are intended to illuminate trends and stimulate action to improve our region’s health.”
For further information, contact Van Arsdale at 707/826-3401 or Connie Stewart, Director of CCRP Research, at 707/826-3402.