SPOKANE — People in Eastern Washington are more likely to die from cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and other common causes of death than people in the western part of the state, according to researchers at Washington State University’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine.
Reasons may be about poverty and less access to health care, the report said.
“In Eastern Washington, nearly 18 percent of the population lived below the poverty level,” the report said, compared to just 12 percent in Western Washington.
In addition, 15 percent of Eastern Washington residents lived in small towns or rural areas, compared to just 2 percent in Western Washington, the report said.
“Future studies can assess how poverty, rurality and access to care impact higher rates of mortality in Eastern Washington,” the report said.
Of the 11 leading causes of death in the state from 2011-2015, Eastern Washington had higher mortality rates in 10 of them: Cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, unintentional injuries, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, diabetes, suicide, chronic liver disease and the flu. The only cause of death in which Western Washington was higher was drug overdoses, the report said.
Researchers found that 716 residents per 100,000 in Eastern Washington died of those causes, compared to 659 residents in Western Washington. Nationally, 733 people per 100,000 residents died of those causes.
The report defined Eastern Washington as the 20 counties east of the Cascade Range, which have 1.5 million residents. The 19 counties west of the mountains have 5.4 million residents.
Tuesday’s report was compiled from data provided by the state Department of Health. The data factored in people’s ages and adjusted the numbers to exclude deaths of the very young and very old to get more relevant numbers.
Study co-author Ofer Amram, an assistant professor at the Spokane-based medical school, told The Spokesman-Review the findings may reflect that Eastern Washington’s smaller and more isolated communities have less access to health care.
He also said the differences in mortality rates were greater than he expected.
For instance, in the case of unintentional injuries, if you take 100,000 people each from Eastern Washington and Western Washington, roughly 45 will die from accidents in the east, and roughly 36 will die from accidents in the west, the report said.
The Floyd College of Medicine was founded in 2015 with a goal of improving access to health care in rural Washington.