Beaches Heart Disease, Cancer Deaths Lowest; Education, Lifestyle Choices Help Residents Score Best in a County Health Study

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Byline: CAREN BURMEISTER

Beaches residents have the lowest rate of heart disease, cancer-related deaths and premature deaths in Duval County, according to a recent county health study.

Health experts interviewed this week attribute that to higher income and education levels, which usually translate to healthier lifestyles, such as less smoking, obesity and substance abuse, leading to lower disease, death and injury rates.

Heart disease and cancer are still the leading causes of death in the county, state and the U.S., according to the Leading Causes of Death report released in September by the Duval County Health Department's Institute of Health Policy and Evaluation Research. The report is based on 2005 data.

However, the Beaches' rate of heart disease deaths, at 154.93 per 100,000, was better than the county's rate of 188.3. It also beats the national target of 166 in Healthy People 2010, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services set of health objectives to prevent and reduce health threats.

The Beaches' cancer mortality rate was also the lowest in Duval County at 93.45 per 100,000, compared to the countywide rate of 186.3 and the U.S. rate of 159.9.

In addition, the health report examined the issue and causes of premature deaths, or the number of years lost by people who died before age 75, the typical life expectancy in Florida.

At the Beaches, there were 4,197 total years lost to premature death. Other regions in Duval County didn't fare as well. In Jacksonville's urban core, 20,111 years were lost to premature death. The zone covering Arlington and part of Jacksonville's Southside showed 19,984 years of life lost to premature death. County-wide, the total was 79,930.

Former Health Department Director Jeff Goldhagen, who is now the chief of community pediatrics at the University of Florida's Shands Jacksonville hospital, said infant mortality rates and demographics play a huge role in the Beaches' premature death statistic.

The number of years lost to premature death are greatly affected by infant mortality rates, or the risk of dying in the first year of life, because when a baby dies, it adds more than 70 years to the count. …