Death Rates For Most Idahoans Are Not Improving

Nov 18, 2015

For the last decades of the 20th century, death rates were declining for most Americans. But so far in 21st century Idaho, that's not happening.

Last week we told you that Idaho was similar to a national study which said death rates were increasing for white people between 45 and 54 years old. When we asked Idaho’s Department of Health and Welfare to analyze death rates, Doctor Christine Hahn was surprised that people in that group were dying at increasing rates. But the state medical director for public health was also surprised that most groups were relatively unchanged.

“Until now I think we thought that Americans, including Idahoans, gradually that their health was going to improve and continue to improve like we’ve seen in the past,” Hahn says. “But what we’ve found is that’s not the case at least in the last decade or so.”

For whites over 65 and Hispanics under 25, death rates have gone down a lot since 1999. But in that time death rates for most other Idaho demographics have not changed enough to be considered statistically significant. For some groups death rates have gone down slightly. And whites 25 to 34 and 35 to 44 as well as Hispanics 45 to 54, have seen slight increases, though those are not considered significant changes.

Hahn says for Idaho Hispanics death rate trends are a bit more positive than for whites. She says for most Hispanic age groups death rates are declining steadily enough to be promising though not statistically significant.

Hahn says it’s clear that white Idahoan’s 45 to 54 are dying more because of things like suicide, drug and alcohol abuse and chronic liver disease. But she’s not sure what’s happening with the groups whose death rates aren’t changing much. Maybe she says, it’s something similar to - though not yet as severe - as what’s happening with the 45 to 54 year olds.

“We don’t know for sure yet if it’s partly the economy, lack of access to health care, discouragement about the future,” she says. “But we are very concerned about it.” 

Find Adam Cotterell on Twitter @cotterelladam

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