Northeastern Minnesota leads state in overall mortality rateNortheastern Minnesota leads the state in overall mortality rate — the chance that a given person will die of any cause during the course of a year.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
If you live in Northeastern Minnesota, you’re much more likely to die from Alzheimer’s than people living elsewhere in the state.
You’re more likely to die of heart disease, more likely to commit suicide and almost twice as likely to die from cirrhosis. You’re more likely than people elsewhere in the state to die as a result of unintentional injury.
All told, Northeastern Minnesota leads the state in overall mortality rate — the chance that a given person will die of any cause during the course of a year.
It might belie popular notions about the Northland.
“You live in God’s country up there, and you pay a price for it,” said Jon Roesler, a state Health Department epidemiologist. “I mean, we all want to live there, but then you look at these health-outcome numbers, and you go — whoa.”
The findings emerge from a “chart book” on the health of rural Minnesotans released on Thursday by the Minnesota Department of Health. The report, relying primarily on data from the Minnesota Center for Health Statistics, compares health statistics in rural and metropolitan areas of the state. It also compares statistics in six regions: Northeast, Northwest, Southeast, Southwest, Central and Metro. It defines the Northeast as St. Louis, Lake, Cook, Carlton, Aitkin, Itasca and Koochiching counties.
Most of the data are from between 2004 and 2009.
The findings aren’t entirely dismal for the region. Northeastern Minnesota has a relatively low rate of food-borne disease, it found. It has much lower rates of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS than the metro region.
And if the region fares poorly, at least it fares poorly in a relatively healthy state.
“Minnesota is frequently ranked as one of the healthiest states in the nation, despite considerable differences in the health of Minnesotans in distinct regions of the state,” the report said.
The numbers agree. Northeastern Minnesota’s overall mortality rate was 767 per 100,000, the report said. That’s below the national average of 804, based on 2007 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But it’s higher than the state average of 678 and higher than any other region.
While the report compares regions and also compares urban Minnesota to rural Minnesota overall, it doesn’t compare urban and rural areas within a region. Nawal Lutffiya, a researcher for the Duluth-based Essentia Institute of Rural Health, said she suspects those numbers would favor the Duluth area over rural parts of the region.
“Typically on health indicators, rural residents fare more poorly than their urban or nonrural counterparts,” Lutffiya said. “Part of that has to do with any number of things … less wealth, less education, less access to health care.”
Lack of access could be one reason for higher suicide rates in rural areas, Roesler said.
“Outside of Duluth, in the Northeast, how many psychiatrists are there?” he asked. “Probably not very many. The economics of delivering specialized care is pretty tough.”
Youth suicide is a concern in the region, particularly in Carlton County, said Julie Myhre, director of the Carlton-Cook-Lake-St. Louis Community Health Board.
“We know that there have been some concerns with suicide, so we’ve actually been trying to develop programs,” Myhre said.
For example, an Essentia Health grant is being used in Carlton County for a pilot program giving young people with suicidal thoughts the opportunity to send a text message for help. “When you look at the hotline calls, kids aren’t calling,” Myhre said. “I have kids in that age group, and they text a lot.”