Rate for heart disease lower here than elsewhere in Michigan

July 8, 2010
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Of the 10 leading causes of death, the frequency of seven is lower in Kent County than in the rest of Michigan. Perhaps more importantly, the incidences of the two top causes occur less often in the county than in the state as a whole.

The rate per 100,000 people for heart disease, the leading cause of death, is 220.5 statewide and 178.7 countywide. The rate for the No. 2 killer, cancer, is 185.4 in Michigan and 172.1 in the county.

Those results come from reports made by the state's 83 county health departments in 2008 and represent the most recent findings.

Why are fewer people in Kent County dying from heart disease and cancer than in the rest of the state? Brian Hertl, an epidemiologist for the past seven years with the Kent County Health Department, thought a reasonable response might be found by examining the cumulative personal behavior of county residents.

As part of a 2008 statewide survey, the local health department conducted a behavioral risk survey that covered 30 potential factors that account for serious ailments. Those factors ranged from having health insurance coverage to alcohol consumption and just about everything in between, including three factors that Hertl pointed out as potential answers for the county's lower heart disease and cancer rates.

The first factor is obesity. The rate of obese individuals in Kent County is lower than the state rate and has been since 2002. However, the local rate of obesity has been on the rise since 1993. In 2002, the county's Body Mass Index was 19.6. By 2008, it was 23.6, while the state's was 30.1. An obese weight status is defined as a BMI of 30 or higher.

"Although Kent County is increasing in obesity — as most places in the country are — we see that we are still lagging behind the percentage of obese individuals in the state as a whole," said Hertl.

The second factor is physical activity, or the lack of it. Eighteen percent in the county reported not exercising or taking part in any leisure-time physical activity, while 25 percent across the rest of the state reported the same. The finding suggests that county residents were more physically active than their peers statewide.

"Based upon the data, Kent County residents who responded to the survey appear to be somewhat more active than those in the state as a whole," said Hertl.

The 2008 county finding was not only better than the state's; it also was better than the 2002 county finding. The number of county residents who reported being physically active went up by 2 percent from 2002 to 2008.

The third factor is smoking. The number of county residents who smoke mirrors the number of smokers in the state's population with both at roughly 20 percent. The state's rate, however, has fallen by 4 percent from 2002 to 2008, while the county's rate has crept up by almost a point.

"Smoking in Kent County has remained fairly constant if you look at an older survey from, like, the 1990s. It kind of hovers around 20 percent. The state rate of smoking has decreased by a faster rate than it has in Kent County," said Hertl.

"But even though we haven't decreased our smoking rate, we have definitely been below the rates of the state and the nation, historically," said Hertl. "So that has contributed to the (lower) impact of smoking on heart disease and cancer, as well."

Leading causes of death

Of the ten leading causes of death, Kent County has a lower per-capita ratio in seven when compared to the rest of Michigan. According to statistics compiled by health departments across the state for a 2008 profile, only the death rates from unintentional injuries, Alzheimer’s disease and pneumonia/influenza were higher in the county than in all of Michigan. But the rate of death in the county from Alzheimer’s disease was nearly double the state rate.

Here is a comparison of the 10 leading causes of death for 2007 in Michigan and in the county.

Cause
Heart disease
Cancer
Lower respiratory diseases
Stroke
Unintentional injuries
Diabetes mellitus
Alzheimer’s disease
Pneumonia/influenza
Kidney disease
Intentional self-harm
Total

 

State Deaths
24,369
20,159
5,161
4,650
3,679
2,749
2,734
1,875
1,659
1,173
88,272

  

State Rate
220.5
185.4
48.0
42.3
35.3
25.3
24.6
17.0
15.1
11.5
810.3

 

County Deaths
1,022
950
221
186
243
75
281
111
56
67
4,238

 

County Rate
178.7
172.1
41.6
32.4
41.3
13.4
49.6
19.0
9.9
11.1
746.8

Note: Rates are per 100,000 residents.

Source: Michigan Department of Community Health, 2008 Profile of Michigan & Kent County

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