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Northeast Texans Are Dying At A Way Higher Rate Than Everyone Else

What’s putting so many northeastern Texans in the grave?

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Caskets rest on the open ground after floating out of their vaults from the storm surge associated with Hurricane Ike September 15, 2008 in Orange, Texas.
Chris Graythen/Getty

Here’s a morbid factoid: if Northeast Texas was its own state, then it would come in and number 45 in the country for its mortality rate, far behind Texas’s ranking at number 31 overall. To further quantify Northeast Texas’s disproportionate dance with death, if the region’s expiration rate in 2014 was the same as the rest of the state, then 2,615 northeasterners would still be alive and kicking.

But they’re not.

Instead, we’re left with the statistical anomaly that is Northeast Texas’s astoundingly high mortality rate, far greater than the rest of Texas and even the rest of the country according to a new analysis by the University of Texas Health System, which used official state health data to paint a dreary picture of death and dying in Northeast Texas. The numbers are even more dismal when you break them down. The area has a 33 percent higher death rate from heart disease than the rest of the state, a 35 percent higher lung cancer mortality rate, and a 40 percent higher suicide rate. Northeast Texas’s mortality rate from strokes would land it last in the country if it were its own state.

Once you turn 25 in Northeast Texas, you should probably start to get your affairs in order, because 25 to 34-year olds have a 49 percent higher death rate in Northeast Texas than the rest of the state, while 35 to 44-year olds are 57 percent more likely to get a visit from the Grim Reaper. Of course, there’s no guarantee you’ll even make it that far. Despite Texas’s well-documented problems with infant mortality, the majority of the state is a neonatal wonderland compared to Northeast Texas, where 6.3 babies die every 1,000 births, compared to 5.8 across the Lone Star State.

So what’s going on? According to the study, the answer to at least part of Northeast Texas’s eternal rest riddle can be found in tobacco. The analysis discovered that 23.4 percent of Northeast Texas adults smoke cigarettes daily, a figure nearly ten percent greater than the rest of the state. That statistic provides a solid, if anecdotal, explanation for the region’s sky-high death rates related to ailments linked to tobacco use such as cancer and heart disease. Other important health factors, like obesity, access to healthcare, and physical fitness weren’t stellar in Northeast Texas, but the region’s rates in those categories were still similar to the rest of the state. As the author of the study, Dr. David Lakey, noted in a blog post he wrote for the Huffington Post when the analysis was released, Northeast Texas also is comparably poorer and less educated than Texas as a whole, which could be a factor. But Lakey wrote that he believes smoking is the “key causal factor.”

Lakey began focusing on improving the health of East Texans in 2015, when he left his Rick Perry-appointed post as commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services to serve as an associate vice chancellor for the University of Texas System and the senior vice president of the University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler’s “population health initiative.” Despite this week’s grim report, Lakey wrote that Northeast Texans can rest assured that there are positive changes on the horizon, specifically with the January opening of a new school in Tyler focusing on training health professionals and providing much-needed services to rural communities across the region.

Editor’s note: The original post misstated the type of school opening in Tyler in January. We regret the error. 

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  • Bruce Bailey

    Misleading opening pic. Orange is NOT in Northeast Texas

    • Joe Forrest

      Funny…

    • logan

      Have you not heard of Orange county? Haha.

    • logan

      Orange county is about as far east as you can get in Texas and around 220 miles north of the southern most town… so I would not argue with the orange pictures credibility.

  • Go_Down_Moses

    Can we define where northeast Texas is, geographically? Not one town/city is noted in the article, and the photo shows a casket in Orange!

    • Lou Snyder

      Counties in Northeast Texas[edit]
      According to the Northeast Texas Genealogical Society, the following 23 counties comprise Northeast Texas:[1] (Note from LOU: I always thought the NorthEast counties were basically North of I-20. On the Weather on local stations the meteorologists seem to refer to those south of I-20 to be East Texas.

      Anderson
      Bowie
      Camp
      Cass
      Cherokee
      Delta
      Franklin
      Gregg
      Harrison
      Henderson
      Hopkins
      Lamar
      Marion
      Morris
      Panola
      Rains
      Red River
      Rusk
      Smith
      Titus
      Upshur
      Van Zandt
      Wood

  • Lou Snyder

    The “Point of View” offered this advice about 3 decades ago, and it is more appropriate in this day and age than ever: Do not believe statistics that you do not know how they were calculated – the source, the numbers etc. As I read the article, I noticed a few of the numbers were skewed. That makes the entire thing unbelievable. When I was an Insurance Agent one of my insureds called from his hospital bed to let me know he was dying and wanted assistance with changing his beneficiary. I visited him with the right form etc etc etc. Then the call came with a request to file the claim. With respect I asked the beneficiary to be sure she had a Death Certificate when we met. Low and behold the VA had listed the major cause of death as cigarette smoking!!!! This man had not smoked in over 30 years as his blood work now and again could prove (yes, if you didn’t know blood work can determine tobacco usage while you are alive and through an autopsy). So if one Death Certificate is erroneous how many others are? And let’s consider the number of retired/elderly people in Northeast Texas – a very large percent. My my – this is one story I choose not to give credance to. These are media alarmists. Also my opinion, it is easier to keep ones job if others are convinced it is needed.

    • Joe Forrest

      Agreed. I think the problem is other than tobac. Not saying tobac is not a problem. I am saying I have noticed many other than lung cancer. Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma seems prominent. Breast cancer is near top of list. Colon, Kidney, Throat, Larynx, Esophagus, Stomach, Liver, and Bone CANCERS I have noted over the years, here. Brain Cancers seem rare and 25% of them seem associated with steroid use. Hodgkin’s seems rare. Leukemia has always been around but seems to be increasing. Strokes in 30 to 40 year range seem associated with methadrine use. Alcohol and prescription drug over dose deaths are probably more common than suicide. No one died from Cannabis…..

      • Joe Forrest

        Left out Pancreatic Cancer, maybe 5 have come to my attention.

      • Lou Snyder

        Hi, Joe – might as well add Diabetes Type II – it can be a killer. It seems an inordinate number of people are diagnosed with it here in Winnsboro. I have known only one other area, Pasadena TX, with a way over the top ratio – about 50% – of the resident clients I had. I was diagnosed with Type II about 1 1/2 years after we moved to Winnsboro. A lot to consider.

        I am in total agreement about the meth use and related deaths as well as over dose deaths.

        The author of the article was using statistics as compared to the entire State of TX and otherwise and that in and of itself calls the Dr’s analysis of statistical results into question. Many many additional factors need to be considered prior to terrorizing NE TX residents. One factor would be how long an individual had lived here. Another factor associated with that would be if an individual was not raised in NE TX, where did they move here from? Was it a large city, or maybe small – as in the Country. Was it an area with a high incidence of any particular fatal disease? And another factor to be considered in this kind of study is overall lifestyle.

        I could certainly go on but I do find myself becoming rather irritated at the entire thing. Healthcare is important, however as within large cities, these types of articles are used to force people in specific areas to “clean up their acts.” Evidently “Country Folk” are destined to become a “dying” breed according to them.

    • Redeemed

      Reminds me of the old sayin….if all you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail.

  • Joe Forrest

    I live in Daingerfield, Morris County. How does the rate of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma compare for this area? I think I have noticed a surge or a wave, more than a spike in the numbers over the past 10 years. I had not heard of this cancer 20 years ago. I think it was NAMED in the 1970s. Does that mean it was very rare before 1970?

  • Redeemed

    I think it’s the accent…. 😉

  • OM

    Stress. Is it possible to be excellent, without all the stress?