Death rates among middle-aged whites in North Carolina are higher than ever before, and suicide and liver disease are major contributors, according to a study out of East Carolina University.
The study, published in North Carolina Medical Journal, says the mortality rate for white people ages 45-54 from 2000 to 2013 increased by 5.9 percent. In 11 of those 13 years, the rate was higher than the base rate established in 2000.
“A large portion of the increase in mortality is attributed to ‘deaths of despair’ – suicide, liver disease, drug overdose and behaviors that lead to these deaths,” ECU professor emeritus Dr. Chris Mansfield told university news services.
Increases in obesity and lack of health insurance were other risk factors identified.
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The most dramatic increases to the mortality rate for midlife whites were found in North Carolina’s poorest counties.
“The poor get sick, the sick get poorer,” Mansfield said in the ECU report. “There’s an economics circumstance, that’s for sure … the relationship between poverty or income and health. And we see it play out on the effect on health most in the poorest counties.”
Mansfield – who authored the study with Department of Public Health colleagues – said that what makes it more interesting is that while the death rate for North Carolina whites rose by about 6 percent over the past 13 years, the rate for non-whites decreased by 30 percent.
The death rate by 2020 for middle-aged whites is expected to rise by another 9.1 percent as it decreases for non-whites by 47 percent, the study said.
The study noted that the overall, national life expectancy rate peaked in 2012, at 78.8 years. It has since slipped to 78.6.