Washington State Report Shows Disparity in Mortality Rates by Race, Ethnicity, Gender
Mortality rates among American Indian, Alaska Native and Asian-American women in Washington state are increasing, while death rates for most other groups are declining, according to the most recent vital statistics report released by the state Department of Health, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports. For the first time, the annual report includes data based on race, ethnicity and gender. The report analyzed data between 1997 and 2006 and found that the state's death rate had declined by 11%. The report also found that:
- Black and white men had the steepest declines in mortality in large part because of fewer cases of cancer and heart disease;
- Black men had the highest diabetes rate, which increased by 50% over a 16-year period;
- Blacks continued to die at a higher rate than whites, who died at a higher rate than Hispanics, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders;
- American Indian men have the highest suicide rate;
- Mortality rates for American Indian, Hispanic, Asian-American and Pacific Islander women have increased steadily since 1998; and
- The infant mortality rate for American Indians is increasing, while rates for all other groups are declining (Ho, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 2/13).
Maxine Hayes, state health officer, said, "There are a few bright spots in this report, but it shows there are still many challenges we face to reduce the health disparities between ethnic groups" (Yakima Herald-Republic, 2/12). Juliet VanEenwyk, state epidemiologist for noninfectious diseases, said, "In general, death rates drop over time," adding, "Where that is not happening, something is definitely going wrong." She said factors such as smoking, lack of exercise, poor diet and alcohol abuse need to be examined as possible causes. Beyond that, "you look at the environments that make it really difficult to be healthy, or at distribution of poverty," she said.
Ralph Forquera, executive director of the Seattle Indian Health Board, said, "The Indian health system, both tribal and urban, is grossly under-resourced to the point that we do not have the luxury to try and improve health statistics, when we are just trying to maintain the bad numbers we currently have" (Ho, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 2/13).
The report is available online (.pdf). This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.