Heart disease, cancer, stroke
Pallavi Agarwal | Highlands TodaySEBRING - Every year since 1935, heart disease, cancer and stroke have each been one of the top five causes of death in the United States.
Published: October 18, 2012
Published: October 18, 2012
That's a well known fact, so it's not surprising that heart disease was Highlands County's No. 1 killer last year.
But while the number of deaths from cardiovascular diseases in Highlands County has dropped since 2002, the number of cancer-related deaths has either remained steady or spiked some years.
Like it has been nationwide, cancer is the second largest cause of death in Highlands County, followed by chronic lower respiratory diseases, such as asthma and bronchitis, and stroke.
Last year, complications from diabetes took 60 lives, making it fifth on the local list. Forty-three people in Highlands County also died from accidents, making it the sixth highest cause of why people die in Highlands.
The Centers for Disease Control's National Center for Health Statistics maintains these statistics by obtaining the cause of death from death certificates, said spokeswoman Krystal Cottman.
The numbers show a trend over time, and the CDC does not examine the "why" behind the figures, Cottman said. But as medical treatments have improved, Americans' overall "risk of dying" has decreased dramatically over the last 75 years, she said.
Highlands's statistics mirror, in many respects, the national numbers, even though the proportion of seniors who call the county home is much higher. Ninety-one percent of the 13,590 people who died from 2002 to 2011 in the county were ages 64 and up.
Men died faster than women, a statistic that also holds true across the world, and almost 48 percent of county deaths last year were from heart disease and cancer, the same proportion that was seen in the United States in 2010.
The proportion of deaths from Alzheimer's disease was lower in the county while diabetes-relates deaths were higher. Sixteen people committed suicide last year in Highlands County, making it the 13th highest cause of death in the county, lower than the 10th highest across the nation in 2010.
Florida Hospital's Director of Performance Improvement Meredith Lutz said the reason why cancer was the second leading cause of death in Highlands County was, in part, because the expected rate of cervical cancer is high.
Along with screenings for cervical cancer, the county has lower-than-average screenings for clinical breast exams for those under 45 and prostate exams for 65 and over men.
"Obviously, early detection improves mortality," she said.
Highlands County also has higher-than-average rates of people with hypertension and cholesterol, and the rates are higher among those who make more than $50,000 or have more than a high school education.
"It's not because of lack of health care," she explained, attributing the reason to stress and a lifestyle of excess.
The average age of Highlands County residents is 55. That obviously plays a big role in the mortality equation because it means the incidence of chronic disease among county residents is higher.
But age is not the only factor.
Lutz attributes Highlands County's higher-than-average rate of diabetes to its lower-than-average access to education on how to manage the disease.
"Diabetes is managed not just through medication but through lifestyle," she said. Fewer residents get that kind of education, she added.