Indian Country ranks high in deaths
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JUNE 27, 2001

Despite being the smallest segment of the population, American Indians and Alaska Natives have the third highest date rate in the nation among racial and ethnic groups, according to preliminary statistics released on Tuesday.

But federal health officials are cautioning that the rate is known to be low due to under-reporting. Studies by the Indian Health Service, in fact, indicate the rate among Indian Country is up to 39 percent higher than the entire nation, putting Native Americans at the top of the pile when it comes to mortality.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report "Deaths: Preliminary Data for 1999," the age-adjusted death rate for Native Americans in 1999 was 716.1 per 100,000. The figure was a slight increase of 1.5 percent from the year prior.

While the age-adjusted death rate for Native American males fell by 1.7 percent, deaths for Native women increased by 4.5 percent from 1998 to 1999. In 1999, the death rate for American Indian and Alaska Native women was 608.5 per 100,000.

Even without considering the under-reporting factor, death in Indian Country ranked high compared to African-Americans and Whites. African-Americans led with 1,1412.7 deaths per 100,000 followed by Whites with 868.8 per 100,000.

For various reasons, state health officials often wrongly classify American Indians and Native Americans on death certificates -- a problem The Native American Times documented this month. Oklahoma, the state with the second highest Native population in the country, ranked third in misclassification, for example.

Since data from yesterday's is based on state sources, miscoding -- as the problem is known -- of Native Americans directly affects the CDC's reported death rate. When the Indian Health Service adjusts its death rates due to miscoding, the death rate among American Indians and Alaska Natives was 39 percent above the national average for the years 1994 to 1996.

The leading causes of death for the entire nation, according to the CDC, were heart diseases and cancer. These mirrored recent IHS statistics for Indian Country.

Nationally, suicide fell from the 8th leading cause of death to the 11th. Although there were drops in suicide rates, the change is also attributed to changes in the way the CDC classifies deaths.

Suicide, however, was the second leading cause of death for White males ages 15 to 24 and third for ages 25 to 44. This ranking was mirrored exactly among Native males in the same two agre groups, according to a 1999 IHS health report.

The infant mortality rate in 1999 was 7.1 per 1,000 -- down slightly from 1998. The rate among Indian Country from 1994 to 1996 was 22 percent higher than the rest of the country.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said the report contained "good news and bad news." "We’re encouraged that fewer Americans are dying from some of the leading causes of death and concerned that other causes are taking a larger toll," he said.

Today on Indianz.Com:
Plains men at high risk from heart disease (6/27)

Get the Report:
Deaths: Preliminary Data for 1999 [pdf 403k] (NVSR 49, No. 3. 49 pp. (PHS) 2001-1120)

Related Reports:
Trends in Indian Health 1998-1999 (IHS 1999)
Regional Differences in Indian Health 1998–99 (IHS 1999)

Relevant Links:
Indian Health Service -

Related Stories:
Cancer deaths increase in Indian Country (6/6)