Bangor Daily News Examines Reasons for Higher Mortality Rate Among Women in Multicultural Maine County
The Bangor Daily News on Wednesday examined findings from a recent national study that shows life expectancy of women in Washington County, Maine, declined significantly over a 16-year period. Washington County is the most culturally diverse area in the state with a large population of Hispanic migrant workers and two American Indian reservations. The county is the only one in New England with an increased mortality rate for women, according to the study.
The study, published this spring in PLoS Medicine, finds that the decline is driven by increases in death from diabetes, lung cancer, emphysema and kidney failure. Washington County has an average of 638 cancer cases per year, compared with an average of 525 cases per county, according to state Rep. Anne Perry (D). The county also has the highest number of cancer-related deaths.
Perry said a higher rate of preventable and manageable diseases, as well as socioeconomic factors, has contributed to increasing mortality rates. One in eight residents in the county is uninsured, and the median household income in the county is 28% below the state level and 25% below the poverty level, the Daily News reports. Perry said, "There is a great deal of health disparity between the haves and the have-nots," adding, "If you have to spend all the money you have to pay bills, pay rent and to eat, health care is not at the top of the list."
Liz Neptune, former director of the local health center and a current consultant for Indian Health Service, said that lifestyle changes among American Indians in the county might also be contributing to higher mortality rates. She added, "Originally, native people were much more active. When we were forced onto the reservations, it forced us to go from living as hunters and gatherers to relying on more processed foods."
"When a mother can buy six boxes of instant macaroni and cheese for less money than fresh vegetables, she will," Neptune said, adding, "She will buy what's cheaper to make her dollars stretch further," she added.
Dora Anne Mills, state public health director and director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said, "Though the study points out some startling and tragic statistics, they are unfortunately not surprising. In a real way, health is determined by numbers and colors -- the numbers on your paycheck and the color of your skin." She added, "We cannot address this as purely a health issue. It is many issues combined, like education, the economy, the environment and infrastructure" (Bayly, Bangor Daily News, 7/9).
The study is available online.