Latest Montana Health Assessment ‘Shines the Spotlight on Big Issues’

By Beacon Staff

Fatal accidents stemming from incidents like car crashes are the leading cause of death for Montana residents between the ages of 1 and 49 years, and the rate is dramatically higher than the national average, according to a recently released draft of the state’s latest public health report.

According to the 2012 Montana State Public Health Assessment, motor vehicle crashes led to 35 percent of accidental deaths in the state in 2009. Deaths resulting from “falls” were next at 20 percent, followed by poisoning from abuse or misuse of prescription or illicit drugs at 18 percent. The state’s age-adjusted unintentional injury mortality rate was 60.4 out of 100,000. The national rate was 40.0 out of 100,000.

The data is from a 30-page report released every five years by the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. The agency is asking for feedback on the latest draft at its website, www.dphhs.mt.gov. The survey will close Feb. 24. After the report is finalized, the DPHHS will prioritize and begin addressing major public health issues, a department news release said. This is the second statewide health report ever released.

“This is just helping to shine the spotlight on the big issues,” Public Health System Improvement Coordinator Lindsey Krywaruchka said. “If we can really take our resources and focus them, we can really make an impact.”

The report paints a particularly stark picture of the overall health of American Indians in Montana. As of 2009, American Indians died, on average, 19 years younger than white residents, according to the assessment. The average white male lived to be 76 years old while the average American Indian male lived to be 57 years old. Women lived six years longer for both races.

Roughly half of all American Indians in the state reported being smokers in 2010, compared to 16 percent of white adults.

According to the assessment, more than half of all state residents die of two diseases. Heart disease was the leading cause of death for all ages in 2009 at 28 percent, followed by cancer at 23 percent. The next leading cause of death was respiratory diseases, accounting for 11 percent.

The percentage of pregnant women who smoke cigarettes remains high. Roughly 15 percent of white women and 27 percent of American Indian women reported being smokers during pregnancy, the report said. There are more than 12,000 babies born in the state each year.

Alcohol or drugs contributed to nearly 50 percent of all fatal motor vehicle crashes, according to the report.