November 30, 2017

Several studies in recent years have reported rising mortality among middle-aged white Americans, especially women and those with less than a high school education. The California Endowment, which previously funded the Center’s California Poverty Study, funded the Center to examine, in new detail, whether a similar mortality trend is occurring in California, Minnesota, and Virginia. Under separate contracts, foundations in Missouri and Kansas are funding the Center to conduct similar analyses for their states. All three funders share an interest in using these projects as a platform for raising awareness about the importance of social determinants of health—for all racial and ethnic groups.

The Center is producing an issue brief for each state, focused on mapping the specific counties in which mortality rates are changing, documenting the characteristics of the population in which troubling trends are occurring, and clarifying the specific causes of death that appear to be responsible. The analyses include a special focus on stress-related conditions, such as deaths from suicide, drug overdoses, and cardiovascular disease. The analysis was conducted at the county level, using data from the Mortality and Population Data System (MPDS) at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, a partner in this project. MPDS data include ICD codes for underlying causes of death for nearly all U.S. deaths since 1950. The Pittsburgh team can also access education microdata from the National Center for Health Statistics.

To date, the Center has completed and released the issue brief and technical supplement for the state of California, as well as the issue brief and technical supplement for Missouri, the issue brief and technical supplement for Virginia, and the issue brief and technical supplement for Kansas. Reports for Minnesota will be released in the coming months.