Orange County residents are healthier than Californians as a whole and had lower rates of teen pregnancy and AIDS cases, according to a state health study released Tuesday.
In a study that measures various indicators of health in a number of categories, including causes of death, Orange County did better than the statewide average in all areas except the rate of low-birth-weight infants. Even in that category, though, Orange County outperformed all of the state's eight other major urban counties.
The study--which covers 1995 through 1997--also found Orange County ahead of national health targets for 2000 in a number of areas from cancer deaths to homicides to infant mortality. The county did fail to keep below these national health targets in these categories: deaths from strokes and illegal drug use, as well as cases of tuberculosis and measles.
In those areas, the county mimics the state's relatively poor showing as measured against the national targets. Fully 32 of 58 counties failed to meet the 2000 goal set by the federal government in drug-related deaths, and 23 fell short in stroke deaths.
State officials pointed out, however, that the state and the counties have time to pull up these lagging categories to meet the targets for 2000.
Among counties with populations of 1 million or more, Orange County continued to rank consistently well in almost all categories. Among this group, the county ranked second lowest in deaths from shootings, homicides, suicides and three other categories.
It also ranked third lowest in fatalities from motor vehicle crashes, breast cancer deaths, lung cancer deaths, AIDS cases, teen pregnancies and five other categories.
In particular, the county death rate for female breast cancer--the only category in which the county had lagged the state average last year--has improved from 20.1 deaths per 100,000 to 18.7.
The annual report is a guide for local officials, serving as an aid to target problem areas within their counties, said Ken August, spokesman for the state Department of Health Services, which conducted the study.
"If you are a county health officer, you would want to break down the incidence of low-birth-weight babies to see if it is an issue for one ethnic group or whether it is an issue for access to care," he said. "You would ask what are the underlying causes in the county for this statistic--perhaps it is prenatal care, perhaps it is access to health care for a segment of the population."
Orange County Health Care Agency officials did not respond to calls for comment on the report, but a similar analysis written by the local agency in January ranked Orange County as second only to Santa Clara County as the healthiest among the state's largest counties. The report used state statistics for the same categories for 1994 to 1996.
At the time, agency officials and others attributed the relative well-being of Orange County's 2.6 million people to its affluence, demographics and relatively good access to health care.
"You would expect that the county would be able to do better on many measures, but it doesn't negate the fact that we do have pockets of community problems that we need to deal with here," said Jon Gilwee, vice president of the Healthcare Assn. of Orange County, a hospital trade group. "This addresses averages, but there are many ingredients to averages, and some of them need improvement."
On Friday, a coalition of public and private health care groups--including all 35 hospitals and the county health agency--is expected to release a report detailing problems with access to medical care, with particular emphasis on problems for the poor and ethnic communities.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
Orange County annual death rates for 12 major categories are better in all instances than the statewide figure, derived from taking the average of deaths from 1995 through 1997. The ratesalso exceed the year 2000 national objective in nine of 11 categories. Death rates are age adjusted per 100,000 residents:
Year 2000 Orange national Death cause county California objective All cancers 110.0 113.3 130.0 Female breast cancer 18.7 18.9 20.6 Lung cancer 29.8 31.0 42.0 Stroke 24.6 26.1 20.0 Motor-vehicle crash 8.7 12.4 14.2 Firearms 9.0 13.5 11.6 Homicide 5.8 10.6 7.2 Suicide 8.5 10.3 10.5 Coronary heart disease 95.3 96.9 100.0 Drugs 6.4 7.9 3.0 Unintentional injuries 19.5 25.7 29.3 All causes 396.3 439.9 N/A
* Primary and secondary
\o7 Source: California Department of Health Services\f7