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Summit County life expectancy drops, racial inequities persist in new 2022 health assessment

Silver statue of people playing ball outside Summa Health in Akron.
Annie Wu
/
Ideastream Public Media
The report finds public health issues such as sexually transmitted diseases, alcohol intake, mental health, stress, poverty and diabetes are still persistent in the county.

Summit County Public Health has released the findings from its 2022 Community Health Assessment. The report aims to provide a comprehensive look at the health of county residents.

The Community Health Assessment is done every three years, so this is the first time the data has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic and the drug overdose crisis are the reasons life expectancy in the county dropped by 1.2 years, said Chief Epidemiologist Rich Marountas.

“It’s a pretty meaningful drop, especially because overall the tendency in the last several decades has been for life expectancy to rise incrementally," Marountas said.

This report also marks the second time this decade a new leading cause of death became one of the top five, Policy and Legislative Affairs Manager Cory Kendrick said.

Aside from that, the data in the report wasn't really surprising to Kendrick.

“The data doesn’t change a whole lot within a short period of time," he said.

Public health issues such as sexually transmitted diseases, alcohol intake, mental health, stress, poverty and diabetes are still persistent in the county.

"You know these are the big things that are keeping us unhealthy, and those are hard things to change in three years," Kendrick said. "And so when we see a shift it's not going to be very dramatic."

It will take years for these issues to improve, Marountas said.

"We're smoking at about the same rate. We're obese at about the same rates or higher," Marountas said. "Exercise has not really changed, so with all those basic factors remaining kind of steady, there just isn't the groundwork there to look like we're going to see this big improvement."

The report also illustrates the racial inequities that persist in public health.

Death rates for Black residents are higher than white residents for four out of five of the most common causes of death. And more than 20% of Black residents live in poverty.

The report shows that race is the true issue in these health disparities, Kendrick said.

"You know socioeconomic difference although makes the problem much worse; poverty, education, those sort of things - it doesn't explain away the difference," Kendrick said.

There’s no easy fix for these inequities, Kendrick said.

“It’s so interwoven," he said. "It’s just not one solution to fix that sort of issue, but I think the first step is understanding there is an issue, understanding what the data looks like and understanding that there’s not one simple thing that’s going to fix the problem.”

The public health department will create a community health improvement plan to take actionable steps based on this data.

Abigail Bottar covers Akron, Canton, Kent and the surrounding areas for Ideastream Public Media. A Northeast Ohio native and lifelong listener of public radio, Abigail started in public radio as a news intern at WKSU. She graduated in 2022 with a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Kent State University.