Isle life expectancy better than average
An HMSA report also cautions that Hawaii's drug use is a problem
Hawaii-born residents live longer and are healthier than people on the mainland, according to the HMSA Foundation's latest edition of Health Trends in Hawaii.
Islanders have a life expectancy of 80 years compared with a national average of 77, the report says.
But it cites a number of problem areas and points out that chronic diseases will increase in the next 10 to 20 years with birthrates declining and people living longer.
On the positive side, compared with other states, Hawaii has a low death rate from coronary heart disease and cancer, less obesity and smoking, a lower uninsured population, high use of seat belts and a low rate of motor vehicle deaths associated with not using seat belts.
However, it says, "Hawaii's health status is worse than the U.S. as a whole when it comes to infant mortality, chlamydia, tuberculosis, motor vehicle deaths involving alcohol, youth drug use, measles and mumps.
"Furthermore, drug use is higher among Hawaii adults and youth than it is for the rest of the nation, and is rising."
State Health Director Chiyome Fukino said she is pleased that life expectancy here is one of the highest in the nation, and she agrees with concerns cited about drug use, drinking and driving.
She said the report underscores the need for a strong education program about drinking and driving, but she questioned some of the data.
The report shows that more than half of Hawaii's motor vehicle fatalities involved alcohol in 2003, compared with a national average of about 40 percent.
Fukino said, "The measure is a little bit misleading. It doesn't necessarily mean we have more drunk drivers," but a higher proportion of traffic fatalities related to alcohol, she said. Also, a state law requires doctors to report blood alcohol for injured patients, she noted.
The national average of motor vehicle fatalities involving alcohol in 2002 was 11.7 percent per 100,000 population, she said. Hawaii's annual rate is averaged over five years and was 6.2 percent per 100,000 population from 2000 to 2004, she said.
"A lower rate overall and a lot of required physician reporting probably gives you a higher percentage," she said.
Regarding infant mortality, Fukino said, "Because this is a small state, from year to year, changes are more often due to chance than statistically significant differences."
She said the Health Department is focusing on sleep-related sudden infant deaths. "We believe this category is the most responsible for the differences that exist between ethnic groups, and this cause of death can be prevented by safe sleep practices."
The report said Hawaii had higher rates of measles, mumps and rubella in 2003 than national rates, but the total number of cases for each of the four diseases ranged from one to 19.
"The numbers are so small, it's hard for it to be a health trend," Fukino said. She said Micronesia had several outbreaks of measles and mumps, resulting in some cases here from people coming in without immunization.
Hawaii youth reporting drug use in 2003 was 23 percent higher than for the nation, according to the HMSA Foundation report.
But the data lumps together youths who experimented with drugs once and habitual users, Fukino noted.
Chlamydia, which causes infertility, increased 197 percent from 1990 to 2003, the report said.
Increased screening efforts, medical referrals and more sophisticated diagnostic tests are catching the disease, which has been underreported, Fukino said. "There isn't any question that risk-taking sexual behavior has increased the prevalence of chlamydia disease."