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Chronic Diseases the Leading Causes of Death in Santa Barbara County, Report Finds

Public health trends are generally positive in Santa Barbara County, and it ranked 14th in the state for overall health outcomes, county officials said in the 2014 Community Health Status Report.

This year’s report focuses on the 3-4-50 concept the Public Health Department uses to emphasize the need for preventive health care: There are three unhealthy behaviors that contribute to four chronic diseases, and those cause more than 50 percent of all deaths in the county.

Many leading causes of death are chronic conditions that are significantly impacted by behavior, according to the Public Health Department.

Poor diet, physical inactivity and tobacco use contribute to heart disease, cancer, lung disease and type 2 diabetes, which cause hundreds of deaths every year, according to the report. In 2012, the year which is the focus on this report, there were 2,986 deaths recorded in the county.

Heart disease caused 773 deaths, making it the leading cause of death overall and for premature deaths, which is anyone younger than 75.

Stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, mental and behavioral disorders (dementia, schizophrenia, mental retardation) and lung cancer were the other top leading causes of death for the county. It’s consistent with data from past years.

The county measures premature deaths in terms of potential years of life lost, meaning the difference between the decedent’s age and 75. Larger numbers mean that younger people are impacted by those causes.

By those calculations, the leading causes of premature deaths after heart disease were suicide, motor vehicle accidents, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, and accidental drug overdoses.

In terms of total deaths, heart disease, lung cancer, unintentional injuries (not counting motor vehicle accidents or accidental drug overdoses) and suicide are the top causes of premature death.

There were 261 more premature deaths in 2012 than 2008, even though there were only 69 more total deaths, according to data from the 2011 Community Health Status Report on premature death and preventable illness.

Generally, the county’s trends are going in the right direction, according to the Public Health Department. The county is healthier than the state average for rates of smoking, adult obesity, physical inactivity and sexually transmitted diseases, which helped contribute to its ranking among other counties.

It also has fewer hospital stays, higher diabetes screening levels and higher levels of mammography for its population, according to the report.

However, more than half of the county’s adults identify as overweight or obese, which means too many residents will be experiencing chronic health conditions in the future, the report said.

The percentage has been increasing every year for the state, which is at 59.8 percent of the population this year, and Santa Barbara County’s population reports 56.5 percent of adults being overweight or obese.

“One of the most promising insights from the data is that many of the chronic diseases, poor outcomes and many of the premature deaths could be improved through prevention,” the report says.

To better understand the community’s needs , the county also tracks demographic information like age, education and income, which all influence health. Santa Barbara’s population is generally younger in the northern part of the county and older in the south, with 14 percent of Santa Barbara residents over the age of 65.

Average incomes vary on the area, but there has been a major increase in the amount of residents living below the federal poverty level since 2001. In the 2010-11 year, 22.6 percent of people were living in poverty, compared with 17.1 percent in 2001, the county reported.

The county’s Hispanic population has grown significantly in recent years and Public Health data found that Hispanic residents have been more likely to be uninsured. That’s a big factor influencing access to preventive health care and medical care in general, the county reported. With preventive health care services, health needs get identified earlier and have better outcomes.

To help with that access, Santa Barbara County has been very proactive about getting people signed up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act, whether it’s through the expanded Medi-Cal program or the state-run exchange. 

It also has programs to help deal with poor diet, physical inactivity and tobacco use like the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, the Nutrition Network for a Healthy California and the Tobacco Control Programs.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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