Northeast Texas

Northeast Texas

Northeast Texans experienced higher mortality rates compared to the state and the country, recent data shows.

The Health Status of Northeast Texas Public Health Report found that in 2019 those between the ages of 35 and 44 saw an increasing risk of mortality in the area. In the COVID-19 category, 2021 data reflected that if Northeast Texas were a state, it would rank lowest of all states in the country in COVID-19 vaccination and one of the highest in mortality rates.

The study was released last week by the UT Health Science Center at UT Tyler. The first edition of The Health Status of Northeast Texas was released in 2016 and served as an important reference for stakeholders interested in promoting health in the area and in addressing geographic health disparities in Texas.

The current report builds on the 2016 report with an additional five years of trend data, an expanded overview section that includes information on social and economic factors that impact health, and additional morbidity measures based on hospital discharge data.

“The Health Status of Northeast Texas 2021 describes current population health challenges facing Northeast Texas, as well as areas of progress, and opportunities to target improvements,” health officials stated in the report. “What the report does not describe are the numerous dedicated health professionals, community leaders, and engaged stakeholders who have taken on this challenge and committed their time and resources to improving health in their communities.”

In the area, the study found that compared to the rest of the state, Northeast Texas had higher mortality rates in 2019 for the five leading causes of death in the country, including heart disease, cancer, unintentional injury, such as motor vehicle accidents, chronic lower respiratory diseases and stroke. In an improvement since the last report, mortality rates in 2019 for heart disease, stroke, most cancers and kidney disease were lower than data in 2014. Mortality rates for diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), Alzheimer’s disease, suicide, alcohol and drug usage and unintentional injuries, however, were higher over the five-year period.

The leading cause of death in the area is still heart disease, according to the report. The rate remains consistently higher than the state and other states in the country. According to the report, if Northeast Texas were a state, it would rank 47th in heart disease mortality. For the second leading cause of death in the area, cancer mortality rates were 13 percent higher, while cancer incidence rates were 10 percent higher than Texas overall.

Chronic lower respiratory disease (CLRD) rates were also up from 2005 to 2019 compared to the state and country. In 2019, COPD mortality rates were up 64 percent higher than the state average. According to the report, if Northeast Texas were a state, it would also rank 47th in terms of CLRD mortality.

Unintentional injury, the fourth leading cause of death in Northeast Texas, continues to exceed mortality rates in the area for 15 years now compared to those in the state and in the country. The top leading cause of unintentional injury is motor vehicle crashes. In 2019, the rate was 77 percent higher than in the state. The report added that while those rates were trending downward in recent years, they have plateaued and remain higher than the state and country.

Stroke mortality rates were also 17 percent higher in Northeast Texas than in the state. If Northeast Texas were a state, it would rate 50th in terms of stroke mortality, which is the fifth leading cause of death in the area. In 2019, only 5 percent of Northeast Texas residents had ever had a stroke. Compared to Texas overall, the stroke mortality rate was higher among women and higher in non-Hispanic whites.

Population data gathered from the 2016 report compared to 2019’s data show only a 2.5 percent population increase in the 35-county area. Additionally, the percentage of adults reporting no physical activity for exercise or recreation during the prior month in the area plummeted compared to 2016’s report. Regular physical activity decreases the risk of all-cause mortality as well as several chronic diseases for which mortality rates are higher in Northeast Texas than Texas overall, including coronary heart disease, stroke, and colorectal cancer. In 2019, an estimated one in four adults in Northeast Texas did not engage in any physical activity for exercise or recreation in the month prior to the survey, a proportion similar to that in Texas overall.

Late last year, Public Health Authority Dr. Paul McGaha shared East Texas had the highest rates of lung cancer and tobacco consumption in the state. Data from the report confirmed McGaha’s data that numbers are declining in cigarette use. More than 16 percent of adults in Northeast Texas smoke, and women are three times as likely to smoke while pregnant in Northeast Texas compared to the state overall.

Senior author of the report Dr. David Lakey, also vice chancellor for health affairs and chief medical officer at the UT System, said he is especially proud of the decline in cigarette use in the area.

“Although the benefits take time to show up in mortality data, they are experienced almost immediately by those who quit and those who are no longer exposed to tobacco smoke. We all look forward to seeing the benefits over time in reduced mortality rates from cancers, heart and lung diseases and decreases in preterm births,” Lakey said.

“The tremendous community effort in improving health of family, friends and neighbors over the past five years is a great foundation to make further and greater health improvements over the coming years, which I have full faith in our region to accomplish,” said Dr. Gerald Ledlow, dean of the School of Community and Rural Health at the Health Science Center.

The report was prepared during the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic and includes measures of vaccination prevalence and COVID mortality rates through Nov. 22, 2021. At that time, Northeast Texas residents 12 and older were 32 percent less likely to be fully vaccinated compared to the same age population in Texas overall. Among those 65 and older, Northeast Texas residents were 17 percent less likely than same-aged Texans to be fully vaccinated. At 399 deaths per 100,000 population, the COVID-19 mortality rate for Northeast Texas through Nov. 22, 2021 (approximately 21 months) was 60 percent higher than the Texas rate, which was 249 per 100,000. If Northeast Texas were a state, it would rank lowest of all U.S. states both in COVID-19 vaccination, having the lowest prevalence, and worst in mortality rates, having the highest rate.

The report concluded that more prevention is needed to address the increase in deaths reflected in the report due to diabetes and suicide.

In a letter to readers by McGaha, Ledlow and Lakey, the health professionals said the addition to the College of Nursing and College of Pharmacy, the new medical school hopes to open its doors at the University of Texas at Tyler in 2023 with a chief aim of helping set a new trajectory for improved health in the region.

President of the UT Tyler Dr. Kirk Calhoun thanked Lakey and Dr. Eileen Nehme, authors in the comprehensive report, and said it is a valuable resource in guiding institutions to better serve the communities of Northeast Texas.

For the full report, click here.

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