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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 27, 2010

Big Islanders face greater health challenges, report says

By Chelsea Jensen
West Hawaii Today

Big Islanders live shorter lives and face higher cancer, heart disease and suicide rates compared with the rest of Hawaii, according to a recent report on health on Hawaii Island.

Lack of access to doctors and health information, the economy, behavior and being of certain ethnic backgrounds appear to decrease life expectancy and the overall health of Big Island residents, said Sharon H. Vitousek, an internal medicine specialist and director of the North Hawaii Outcomes Project, which produced the Community Health Profile 2010 report.

"The Big Island has had consistently the worst health statistics in the state," Vitousek said. "Health disparities are complex problems that have complex causes and complex solutions."

The report, released this week by the North Hawaii Outcomes Project, brings together data scattered among government agencies and organizations, Vitousek said. The goal is to compile information in one place to start a dialogue in order to improve residents' health islandwide, she said.

Vitousek said she is most concerned with the increase in the number of suicides on the island. Between 2007 and 2008, the suicide rate went from 11 per 100,000 residents to 16 per 100,000 residents, according to the report. By 2010, the organization had hoped to see those numbers drop to 5 per 100,000 residents.

Vitousek said the increase correlates with the ailing economy and more cases of depression in Big Island communities.

"It's very concerning because suicide is compounded by one of the ways people tend to cope with stress —through alcohol — and that increases the risk of suicide," she said.

One in five Big Islanders reported binge drinking, consuming more than five alcoholic beverages on a single occasion, within the last month, according to the report.

Hawaii County residents have an average life expectancy of 79.7 years, compared with Honolulu, where residents can expect to live 80.9 years. Decreased life expectancy is likely related to limited access to health care, behavior and economic and social disparities, according to the report.

Despite Hawaii County's residents accounting for 14 percent of the state's population, just 5 percent of Hawaii's licensed doctors practice here.

In order to meet the island's health care demand, at least 200 doctors would have to begin practicing on the Big Island, Vitousek said referring to a 2010 physician workforce study completed by the University of Hawaii's John A. Burns School of Medicine.


On the Net:

Read the complete story in West Hawaii Today: http://www.westhawaiitoday.com/articles/2010/05/26/local/local03.txt

View the report: http://nhop.org./