Premature deaths in Washington state, defined as deaths before the age of 65, are far more prevalent among non-whites and low-income communities, a new study from Washington State University found.
Between 2011 and 2015, almost one-quarter of all deaths in Washington state were premature. Using 242,667 of those fatalities and associated demographic, address, census tract education and gender characteristics, researchers found that whites experienced the lowest rates of premature deaths at 22 percent of deaths, while the highest rates were among Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders at 55 percent of deaths, followed by Native Americans and African Americans.
Pablo Monsivais, a co-author of the study and an associate professor at Washington State University, says that the gap in the rate of premature deaths between racial demographics stands out.
"What is surprising is the size of those gaps, like the fact that some racial groups in the state experience premature death twice as much as whites," he says.
The study did not analyze the factors contributing to the disparate rates in premature deaths, but Monsivais points to broader issues like poverty and inadequate access to medical care as possible root causes.
"You have a combination of factors that we don't entirely understand, but being in some racial categories is just a huge health risk and it could be because of things like poverty, lack of resources like medical care, and social factors like stress and facing discrimination," he says.
Locally, central and northern parts of Spokane experienced the highest prevalence of premature deaths, in addition to the Airway Heights area, the study found.