A new study has rated Sioux County, North Dakota, home of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation, the least healthy place in the United States for the second consecutive year, reported Bloomberg. Los Alamos County, New Mexico takes the lead as the healthiest county in the nation.
The estimated 4,153 people (2010 Census) who live within the 1 million acres of Sioux County, which straddles North and South Dakota, have the highest rate of premature deaths in the nation, according to the 2012 County Health Rankings. The annual list of the country’s most and least healthy 3,000 U.S. counties is compiled by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
A county's health rating is measured by how long people live (mortality) and how healthy people feel (morbidity), as well as health factors including health behaviors (such as exercise and smoking rates), clinical care, social and economic factors, and the physical environment (such as availability of sidewalks and bike paths and number of fast food restaurants), reported Time Magazine.
Researchers also assessed premature death rates (deaths before age 75 in this study). Sioux County residents lose almost 24 years of potential life per 100 residents, reported Bloomberg. Many of these premature deaths are considered to be preventable, states County Health Rankings & Roadmaps. In contrast, Los Alamos, which had the lowest rate of premature death, loses less than 3 years per 100 residents.
Large populations of Native Americans reside in eight of the 10 counties ranked the least healthy, according to the U.S. Census. They are based in the Dakotas, Alaska and Montana, stated Bloomberg. High rates of premature death are generally tied to high poverty rates, poor education systems and low levels of economic development, said Patrick Remington, a professor of population health sciences at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, who compiled the data.
“We almost have a blind spot to the fact that we have counties, that represent all or part of Indian nations, that are some of the least healthy places certainly in each state and nationwide,” Remington told Bloomberg. “To me, that should be sort of a national disgrace.”
Meanwhile, in Los Alamos, only 2.4 percent of families live in poverty, and the household medium income is roughly $104,000, according to the Census.
Native Americans suffer from poverty and poor health due to “a whole host of reasons,” said Donna Galbreath, a member of the Ahtna Athabascan tribe who is a family physician at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage and president of the Association of American Indian Physicians.
“It comes from marginalization early on, it comes from substance abuse, it comes from lack of health care and underfunded health care,” she told Bloomberg. She could not be reached immediately for comment.
Roadmaps to Health
The County Health Rankings offers a Roadmaps to Health Action Center with tools created to help counties, groups and tribes work together to build healthier communities.