Clark County life expectancy shorter than state, nation

Heart disease, cancer and accidents are the leading causes of death locally.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Clark County residents have shorter life expectancies than the average Ohioan and nearly 7 years less than the national average. Heart disease, cancer, and drug poisoning and other unintentional injuries are the county’s leading causes of death.

Those were among findings in the Clark County Combined Health District’s community health assessment. Health leaders are working with other groups to improve the quality of life in Clark County by addressing needs with housing, mental health and addiction services, food access and more.

Clark County’s average life expectancy is 73.9 years. Ohio has a lower life expectancy than the national average, coming in at 76.5 years compared to 80.6 years nationally.

“Those numbers tell us that a person who lives in Clark County on average is not going to live as long as somebody who lives in another part of the state,” said Anna Jean Sauter, an epidemiologist at Clark County’s health district.

Life expectancy of a Clark Countian is also impacted by where they reside in the county, according to the community health assessment.

Those living in the central part of the county — in and around Springfield — live between 65.7 years to 75 years on average. Those living in the northern, northwestern and southern parts of the county have the highest life expectancy, ranging from 77.5 to 83.6 years, according to the health district.

The county mirrors the state in its top two leading causes of death: heart disease and cancer.

Clark County’s rate for heart disease mortality was 216 deaths per 100,000 people in 2021, with the rate increasing to 240 per 100,000 in 2022, according to Clark County Combined Health District preliminary data.

The mortality rate of Clark County residents was 1.6 times higher than the state of Ohio in 2020, according to the health district.

Higher cancer rate

Heart disease is the highest cause of premature death for male residents in Clark County, according to the health assessment.

Cancer, however, is the highest cause of premature death among women in Clark County.

Breast cancer is the most prevalently diagnosed cancer in Clark County, followed by lung and bronchus and melanoma.

Clark County has a higher cancer incidence rate and mortality rate in men, women, white residents and Black residents compared to Ohio and the nation, but cancer incidence overall has seen a decline in the county from 2012 to 2020, according to the assessment.

Ohio’s third-leading killer is COVID-19, but that is not the case in Clark County, where unintentional injuries ranks third in cause of death.

Sauter explained fatal unintentional injuries can include traffic accidents, water-related incidents like drownings, exposure to fire and other tragedies.

“It’s really any unintentional, accidental death,” she said.

Fatal drug overdoses are also included in this category.

The county saw an overall decline in drug overdose deaths from 2015 to 2020, according to the health assessment.

Drug overdose deaths involving heroin and prescription opioids declined throughout that timeframe in both the state and Clark County, but drug overdose deaths involving fentanyl significantly increased at the same time.

Men made up the majority of overdose deaths in Clark County from 2015-17 and in 2020, but for 2018 and 2019, women made up the majority of overdose deaths, according to the health assessment.

Those 35-44 years of age made up the highest percentage of overdose deaths in Clark County from 2015-2020.

An ounce of prevention

Part of the health district’s strategy to prevent deaths by overdose is harm reduction and reducing stigma, Sauter said. Its substance abuse coalition is leading those efforts.

The health district and Springfield-based rehabilitation center McKinley Hall work to increase “wrap-around” services at the One2One” needle exchange program, located at the Springfield Soup Kitchen on North Limestone Street.

Health district workers can help connect people who come to the One2One program to treatment. McKinley Hall also coordinates a Project Dawn program, which distributes Naloxone, which can reverse the effects of an overdose.

Those interested in obtaining Naloxone can also call the health district for more information.

A huge component of prevention, too, is education, said Nate Smith, communications coordinator for the health district. The health district aims to reduce the number of high school students using alcohol, cigarettes, vaping products and marijuana.

“We know based on data that the earlier someone begins to use those substances, the harder it is for them to quit later on in life,” said Smith.

The community health assessment, completed every three years, represents a “snapshot” in time for Clark County’s community health. The health district works with different community partners to gather data, Sauter said.

A disparity exists in health outcomes and life expectancy, Sauter said.

Health equity means that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible.

Underlying issues contributing to negative health outcomes include chronic disease, housing insecurity, mental health and maternal, infant and sexual health, according to the health assessment.

Sauter said multiple groups within the health district and its partners are working to provide resources to everyone in the community, but she said it’s important to note their programming isn’t intended to be a “one-size-fits-all” solution.

For example, the health district and its partners are working to address needs unique to every sector of the community, like delivering messaging to Haitian Creole speakers who are new to the community.

“It’s really about meeting people where they are,” she said.

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