A new study found people who live in rural Appalachia have higher infant mortality rates and lower life expectancy compared to people living elsewhere in the country. Rural Appalachia comprises counties and regions in 13 states.
A group of researchers analyzed mortality rates around the country and found that people in Appalachia are being left behind when it comes to life expectancy and according to the authors, it has to do a lot with smoking.
The study was published in the August issue of Health Affairs.
Infant mortality rates spike across Appalachia’s thirteen states
The researchers compared life expectancy and child mortality rates in Appalachia with the rest of the United States between 1990 and 2013 and found that while the rates were similar during the 1990s, by 2013 infant mortality across the region was 16 percent higher than in the rest of the country. Furthermore, life expectancy for adults was 2.4 years shorter by 2013.
The team used the federal Appalachian Regional Commission to define the region, which is made up of 428 counties across 13 states. It includes counties in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and all of the counties in West Virginia.
The region has been the focus of the opioid epidemic in recent years, which has caused a rise in the mortality rate for middle-aged white people. However, the new study found one of the biggest causes for these rates is tobacco use. Gopal K. Singh, a senior health equity adviser with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and co-author of the study, said almost 20 percent of Appalachian women report they smoked during pregnancy. In the rest of the country, that rate is 8 percent.
“Smoking takes a tremendous toll on the health of Appalachians,” the authors wrote, according to The Sacramento Bee.
The others causes of death throughout the study period included heart disease, cancer, and respiratory illnesses, all conditions that can be caused by tobacco.
Drug overdoses and car crashes
Kentucky, along with West Virginia, has some of the highest smoking rates in the country, as well as some of the lowest cigarette taxes. State legislators passed a law requiring health insurance companies to cover tobacco cessation medications that are approved by federal regulators. However, they wouldn’t be able to pass a bill that would have banned tobacco from public school campuses.
Out of Kentucky’s 173 public school districts, only 36 percent ban all tobacco products on campus and at school-sponsored events.
“What this report shows is the extreme danger tobacco is causing our people and how we are getting hammered by it worse than any other place in this country,” said Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, according to The Sacramento Bee.
The new study also found drug overdose was responsible for 6.3 percent of the life expectancy gap between 2009 and 2013. The researchers believe that finding was a likely explanation for why the life expectancy among white women dropped between 1990 and 2004 while increasing for white women in the rest of the country.
Accidental deaths like car crashes were among the causes, too. According to the researchers, about 30 percent of “unintentional injury deaths” in rural Appalachia are from car accidents, which contributes considerably to the life expectancy gap.
Source: The Sacramento Bee