Adults in county living longer, but life expectancy gap grows

EVERETT — Adults in Snohomish County are living longer, to roughly age 82 for women and 78 for men.

Life expectancy here has increased since 1980. The county ranks in the upper 20 percent among 3,142 counties nationally.

But that’s still short of ranking in the top 10. Summit County in Colorado was first on the list, with people there typically living to nearly 87.

These and other measures of local, state and national health were included in a recent report by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, a research center at the University of Washington.

It broke out information from the National Center for Health Statistics on the nation’s 3,142 counties.

Researchers discovered big differences in how long people live — a more than 20-year difference when comparing various parts of the nation, based on 2014 data.

That life expectancy gap is bigger now than in 1980. The report calls that an indication of growing inequality in the health of Americans.

For example, the lowest life expectancy was in Oglala Lakota County in South Dakota, where people live to be about 67 years old. That’s similar to the age in countries such as Sudan, India and Iraq, according to the report.

The gap in life expectancy has grown over time in the U.S., despite having a well-developed health care system, said Laura Dwyer-Lindgren, a researcher who worked on the study.

Obesity, smoking, household incomes, and access to health care are some of the factors behind the differences in how long Americans live, she said.

Washington is “continuing to address issues we know of concern: tobacco use, e-cigarette use, alcohol use and substance use,” said Cathy Wasserman, an epidemiologist for the state Department of Health.

There’s a statewide effort to give all children a healthy start through steps such as making sure immunization rates remain high and through screening and early identification of developmental challenges, she said.

The report showed some health trends improving in Snohomish County. Breast cancer rates are below the national and state rates.

Fewer people are smoking. Among women, smoking rates dropped about 18 percent between 1996 and 2012. There was about a 22 percent reduction among men.

But the report also noted problems.

The number of women dying from causes related to mental health and drug and alcohol abuse rose 368 percent between 1980 and 2014, to nearly 11 per 100,000. Among men, the death rate was nearly 18 per 100,000, roughly a 165 percent jump.

Local adults also are increasingly obese, rising 27 percent among women between 2001 and 2011, and 39 percent among men.

The number of people who died from diabetes, kidney and urinary tract problems, and thyroid or related problems, increased 60 percent among women since 1980, to nearly 46 per 100,000, and nearly 58 percent among men, to 60 per 100,000.

About one-quarter of men reported binge drinking, up nearly 9 percent from 2002 to 2012.

While the number of men who have malignant skin melanoma, or skin cancer, is relatively low at 4 per 100,000, it has increased about 21 percent since 1980.

Local groups are working on many of the issues outlined in the report, said Heather Thomas, a spokeswoman for the Snohomish Health District.

“In order for us to make a significant difference, it’s all of us working together,” she said. Nonprofits, faith-based groups and government organizations “all play a role in solving the puzzle.”

A similar report on local health trends was compiled by the Snohomish Health District last year.

It found differences among 11 geographic areas in Snohomish County.

For example, suicide deaths were highest in Edmonds, Mountlake Terrace and west Lynnwood. Deaths from Alzheimer’s disease were most prevalent in Bothell and Brier.

And deaths because of complications from diabetes occurred in the Tulalip Bay and north coast areas at more than twice the countywide rate of roughly 26 deaths per 100,000 people.

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; salyer@heraldnet.com.

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