Cancer was the leading cause of death among both American Indians and Alaska Natives, accounting for 320 deaths per 100,000 men and 185 deaths per 100,000 women. American Indians and Alaska Natives had higher mortality rates for almost every cause of death associated with chronic disease compared to whites, including heart disease, stroke, liver disease, diabetes and human-immunodeficiency virus. Both groups also died from accidents at a rate that was 2.5 times higher than whites, according to the study, and were five times more likely to be victims of a homicide.
Mortality rates varied greatly based on region and age. The greatest disparities were found among adults between the ages of 25 and 44 living in the Northern Plains region of the U.S., where the death rate among American Indians was more than three times higher than that for whites.
The findings seemed to indicate a reversal of health gains made during the early half of the last century, which saw lower mortality rates among the two groups. While the death rate since 1990 has decreased by 1.3% for white males and at an average of about 0.5% each year for white women, the mortality rate among American Indians and Alaska Natives since 1990 has remained flat.
A major reason for these higher mortality rates has been the prevalence of unhealthy lifestyle behaviors among American Indians and Alaska Natives associated with the onset of the most common and deadliest diseases and chronic conditions, researchers said.
Between 2008 and 2010, an estimated 23% of American Indians and Alaska Natives reported that they currently smoked, according to a 2013 CDC study. Additionally, 40% of American Indians and Alaska Natives over the age of 18 reported having a body-mass index of 30 or greater in 2011, which is considered to be obese. That's compared to 26% of whites in the same year, according to the HHS' Office of Minority Health.
“The disparity in death rates between American Indian/Alaska Natives and non-Hispanic white populations in the United States remains large for most causes of death,” the report concluded. “A concerted, robust public-health effort by federal, tribal, state and local public-health agencies, coupled with attention to social and economic disparities, may help narrow the gap.”
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