U.S. death rates are down; odds still stacked against South LA

March 14, 2012, 8:05 a.m.

A new study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found significant improvement in Americans' expected lifespans over a 75-year period. (Credit: Rick Payette/Flickr Creative Commons)

Keep those future plans coming: People in the United States are living longer.

That's according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which released data that found significant improvement in Americans' expected lifespans between 1935 and 2010, primarily because of the modern-day medical care and declines in percentage of people who smoke.

Key findings included that while single-year improvements in mortality were small, the risk of dying (adjusted for age) dropped 60 percent over 75 years. Over those 75 years, the three of the five leading causes of death were constant: heart disease, cancer and stroke, with heart disease and cancer always being the first and second leading causes of death, respectively.

All age groups saw a decline in death rates, but none were as drastic as the 94 percent death reduction for children between the ages of one and four years old.

The study reports that while "the total number of deaths increased by 1.1 million between 1935 and 2012, the risk of dying decreased." That decrease was fueled by both changes in people's lifestyles and medical advances.

Donna Hoyert, a health scientist at the Center for Disease Control's National Center for Health Statistics, authored the report, and said the decrease and rates and more aggressive treatment of cardiovascular diseases were among the most significant changes over the past 75 years.

"The way we live now is much different than in the [1930s]," she told HealthDay News. "In the medical field, there have been advances and changes in behavior over time."

Laurence Gardner, the executive dean for education and policy at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, also told HealthDay that the "big change" was the decrease in smoking and the obtaining of antibiotics for ailments like pneumonia.

Gardner also said that while advances have been made in, for example, treatment of cardiovascular disease, there's still an obesity epidemic, and that is exacerbating the prevalence of diabetes.

That's bad news for South Los Angeles, which has some of the worst obesity rates in the county. Statistics released in 2011 by the L.A. County Department of Public Health show that Florence-Graham, an area in the heart of OnCentral's area of coverage, had an adult obesity rate of 38.7 percent in 2007, ranking 124 out of 127 areas studied. Compton's adult obesity rate was 39.1 percent, ranking just below Florence-Graham at 125. L.A. City Council District 9 – led by Councilwoman Jan Perry, who has advocated for healthier food choices in her district – was at 36.7 percent, ranking at 122.

The statistics also indicated that child obesity rates in 2007 for Florence-Graham, Compton and Council District 9, respectively, were 31 percent, 29 percent and 29.5 percent.

And even if medical advances have played a part in American's lengthened lifespans, residents of South L.A. don't necessarily have access to those either. Nina Vaccaro, the executive director of the Southside Coalition of Community Health Centers, described South L.A. as a "barren wasteland when it comes to specialty care and primarily care providers" earlier in March.

Another study by the county's public health department indicated as much in 2010: It found that South L.A. lifespans fall short compared to the county's average of 80.3 years. Florence Graham, for example, had an average life expectancy of 76.7; Compton, 75.7; Council District 9, 77 even.

The report found, among other trends, that there is an inverse relationship between life expectancy and higher levels of economic hardship.

Photo by Rick Payette via Flickr Creative Commons.

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