San Luis Obispo County has the highest rate of stroke death in California and an above-average incidence of drug-induced deaths but is among the healthiest counties for mortality relating to heart disease and the flu.
But fewer people on average die here of diabetes, Alzheimers disease and homicide than in most of the states 58 counties.
Those results are the highlights of a report recently released by the California Department of Public Health and the Conference of Local Health Officers. Since 1993 the County Health Status Profiles has annually taken a selection of health indicators this years looked at the 2005-11 period and painted a picture of what people die of across the state (per every 100,000 people).
Most of San Luis Obispo Countys death rates align with other affluent counties in the state, but not all: For instance, suicide rates here are among the highest in the state and chronic lower respiratory disease deaths are above the state average.
But geographically based mortality rates, wherever they rank, do not always foretell a persons likeliness to die of a certain disease, said San Luis Obispo Countys epidemiologist, Ann McDowell. She has not read the states latest report but closely tracks the countys health and mortality.
While these mortality rates can help reveal the health of the countys population now, McDowell warns that dying of a disease does not mean a person didnt have other implicating factors, and, she added, causes of death are often multifaceted. Heredity, lifestyle and environment can all play a role.
I have read a lot of death certificates in this county, and I can tell you some are incomplete, she said. Still, she added, By and large we have a pretty healthy county. For the most part, people make good lifestyle choices here.
Heres a closer look at the reports findings. (Rankings are from best to worst. So the No. 1 county in a particular category is the most healthy, No. 58 the least):
San Luis Obispo County has the highest rate of stroke-related deaths in the state 56.6 per 100,000 people, whereas the state average is 38.1. The countys stroke death rates are similar to counties in the Central Valley rather than the Bay Area or the Los Angeles area as is the case for many of San Luis Obispos other death rates.
We have a healthy population, but living longer means chronic diseases, said McDowell. Therefore, she said, high stroke rates can mask the fact that people live with other diseases, too.
The countys rate of drug-induced death 14.5 per 100,000 people is higher than the states 10.9. San Luis Obispo County ranks 36th, which is akin to counties as different as San Diego, Merced and Sonoma. McDowell, who is concerned about drug deaths, said they are mostly caused by prescription drug abuse and accidents. I am constantly concerned with the unintentional drug death in the county.
San Luis Obispo County ranks 38th in the state for suicides with a rate of 16.3 per 100,000 people compared to the states 10.2. But McDowell warns this is not all it seems. Many of the suicides in the county are visitors committing suicide rather than locals, which artificially raises the local rate.
Chronic lower respiratory disease
The countys 37.8 rate of respiratory disease is only slightly higher than the states 37.5 rate. The county ranks 23rd. But McDowell pointed out that this may be partly caused by the large number of retirees who move here. Environmental factors not present here air pollution, for instance may have been worse in the counties where retirees used to live and that exposure impacted their lungs.
Alzheimers disease, heart disease, diabetes and influenza/pneumonia
San Luis Obispo County has rates among the lowest 20 counties for all of these diseases: 18th lowest for Alzheimers or a rate of 23.7 per 100,000 people; 14th lowest for diabetes with a rate of 13.5; and seventh for coronary heart disease with a rate of 90.5. The county has the eighth lowest rate of death from the flu and pneumonia, at 11.0. McDowell said these low rates are most likely because of the relatively healthy lifestyle choices made here.
While the county ranks among the lowest in the state in cancer death rates the 20th lowest McDowell says that San Luis Obispo County also ranks among the highest for invasive cancer. Its just that here the disease is caught and treated more often, so it doesnt show up as a major cause of death, she said. But low death rates mask the extremely high rate of cancer here. I cant explain the rates, McDowell said.