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Study finds decrease in early deaths in North Dakota

North Dakota has made gains in reducing early deaths among its residents, but the state still sees threats such as cancer and accidents shortening lifespans in the state, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Assoc...

North Dakota has made gains in reducing early deaths among its residents, but the state still sees threats such as cancer and accidents shortening lifespans in the state, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study published in April, examined causes of premature death in every state to determine whether life expectancies were increasing or decreasing. The study found that the probability of early death-particularly between the ages of 20 and 55-decreased in all states but five: Kentucky, Oklahoma, New Mexico, West Virginia and Wyoming.

According to the study, North Dakota fared well, and the probability of death between the ages of 20 and 55 decreased.

The North Dakota Department of Health shed further light on the leading factors of premature death in the state. Tracy Miller, the state epidemiologist, said the department measures causes of death in two ways. Years of potential life lost (YPLL) is a cumulative total of the years North Dakotans have died before the age of 75, the average human lifespan. Miller says YPLL accounts for all ages up to 74. For example, if a 40-year-old died, he or she contributes 35 years to the state's annual total of years of potential life lost. Another statistic, leading causes of death, is recorded by the health department and tracks causes of death across all ages, producing slightly varying results, Miller said.

According to data gathered by the health department, cancer, accidents and diseases of the heart contributed most heavily to potential years of life lost in North Dakota.

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Cancer was the largest factor in early death in North Dakota in 2016, accounting for 7,850 years of potential life lost. Miller said lung, breast, colon, pancreatic and esophageal were the most deadly cancers. Accidents accounted for 7,665, and diseases of the heart 5,149 years of potential life lost among North Dakota residents in 2016.

Miller said accidents can include deaths ranging from car accidents, to falls and suffocation. She noted a reason for an increase in years of life lost due to motor vehicle accidents could simply be an increase in the state's population.

Data on causes of early death was also collected on a county-by-county basis. Grand Forks County saw the most years of life lost due to cancer, in line with statewide trends, which took 571 years of life from residents under the age of 75. Accidents followed, causing 540 years of life lost. Diseases the heart and suicide rounded out the top four with 365 and 292 years of life lost, respectively, in Grand Forks County.

National comparisons

Based on data collected by the AMA, North Dakota ranks 12th among the 50 states for life expectancy. Miller cited life expectancy as 70.9 years for males and 79 for females in the state.

She said research has not yet answered the question as to why women live so much longer than men.

"I think that's kind of a phenomenon nationwide," she said. "That could be due to a variety of things whether it's smoking, or obesity, or health care-there's just so many factors that play into that."

The AMA study found that a rise in drug use has been contributing to more early deaths. In North Dakota, while drug-related deaths are on the rise, Miller said the rate is not alarming.

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"We are seeing more drug overdoses in North Dakota, however they're still thankfully in very small numbers," she said.

In 2016, 55 North Dakotans died of drug overdoses, a number which she noted doesn't only pertain to narcotics or street drugs, but can also include accidental poisonings from over-the-counter or prescription drugs.

Miller says making an effort to improve quality of life, increasing life expectancy, is the mission of the health department.

"There's a lot of things that we do that we are putting into place in an effort to reduce mortality."

The department collaborates with various state agencies to provide immunization, suicide prevention, bicycle safety and various other educational, public programs.

But while there are state initiatives and policies aimed at helping people toward a healthier lifestyle, Miller said health and wellness is ultimately a personal decision.

"I think it really boils down to a lot of things all of us know. Just healthier eating, better exercise, getting outdoors," she said.

"My personal health begins with me."

Related Topics: HEALTH
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