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Death Rates in Rural Missouri are Up, Study Looks at Why

February 15, 2018 - 9:02 am

ST. LOUIS (KMOX) - The Missouri Foundation for Health is sounding the alarm with the question,  ''why are death rates rising among whites in Missouri?" 

Ryan Barker, VP of Health Policy Missouri Foundation for Health says they contracted with Virginia Commonwealth Univ to study death rates in all of Missouri's 114 counties since the year 2000. and what they found in the state's rural counties is being called a disturbing trend. 

"We saw whites between the ages of 25 and 59, we saw in 33 of those counties the death rate, the mortality rate, increase by more than 50 deaths per 100,000 residents," he says. 

The increasing death rates were found in both white men and women in rural Missouri.  The bootheel and the Ozark areas have seen the largest increases. He says whites in rural Missouri are dying from alcohol poisoning, drug overdoses, liver disease and suicide .  Barker says researchers call it 'death by despair' tied to  social change, high unemployment rates, long term poverty and the lack of opportunity in rural Missouri. He says the solutions to create a better safety net may sound familiar, job training, universal healthcare and subsidized post secondary education. 

"You start to see people literally being depressed, turning to drugs as a coping mechanism, to deal with not being able to find a great job, so this I really think ties back to what we saw in the 2016 election," he says.

Barker says overall mortality rates remain disproportionally higher for certain groups of people of color and he says the unprecedented loss of life expectancy for whites is a significant cause for concern saying both demand action from lawmakers and health care providers.