FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) --A new study by the California Endowment shows the death rate among white people in the Central Valley is rising, due primarily to economic conditions.
"It's not just affecting poor people in the Latino community, poor people in the African American Community, all communities, and we need to address these policy and systems changes that are negatively affecting our life span," said Sarah Reyes, California Endowment Program Manager.
The death rate for white people aged 40 to 64 in California is 500 per 100,000-- in the Central Valley it's 40 percent higher, more than 700 per 100,000.
Dr. Steven Woolf of Virginia Commonwealth University has been involved in the study and blames economic stress.
"This population is reacting to those stresses through various acts of despair, from drug overdoses, which have been in the news a lot, but other forms of substance abuse and even suicide."
The study suggests access to health care is an issue. With half or more of the populations of Fresno, Tulare, and Kings County reliant on government funded health care through Medi-Cal, the threat to cuts in the system could make things worse.
"When you look at the staggering rates where we see mortality rates increasing dramatically for white, non-Hispanic, people living in the Central Valley, you've got to ask yourself is this really the time to lessen, repeal, get rid of the health care safety net and access to health care," said Reyes.
The Fresno County Department of Health has been briefed on the study. Director Dave Pomaville and Health Officer Dr. Ken Bird issued a statement which read in part:
"Any increase in rates of premature preventable death is a major cause for concern. When the final results of this study are made available it is critical that a broad coalition of public and private agencies review them and consider evidence-based methods of adequately addressing the full gamut of health needs of our residents."
The study notes the early death rate among minority populations has been higher than the white rate, but has been steadily declining.
The increase in the white death rate is seen as a warning for all groups that lifespans in the Central Valley are getting shorter.