Suicide rates in Hawaii County have increased significantly since 2005 and diabetes rates have doubled statewide in the last decade, according to an updated community health report.
But the 2012 Community Health Profile Report, put together by the North Hawaii Outcomes Project, also shows some improvements in health indicators for the Big Island, project Director Dr. Sharon Vitousek said. For one, traffic death rates have decreased by about half since 2000, and the rate of confirmed cases of child abuse has also dropped, she said.
Hawaii’s other rural counties, Maui and Kauai, also have higher suicide rates than Honolulu, Vitousek said, noting a Department of Health study that tied the suicide rate — 20.7 deaths per 100,000 people on the Big Island, compared with 12.8 people per 100,000 statewide — to economic challenges and chemical dependency.
“Fifty percent to 70 percent of suicides involved alcohol and drugs, as well as depression,” Vitousek said.
The county’s suicide rate in 2005, a low, was about 5 deaths per 100,000 residents.
The increase in the diabetes diagnosis rate was a surprise, Vitousek said. One in 10 people on the island and statewide reported a doctor told them they had diabetes. But in Hawaii County, people with diabetes are likelier to end up hospitalized for the disease.
“I worry not enough people are getting their diabetes diagnosis an an early stage,” Vitousek said, noting the ongoing primary care doctor shortage on the island.
The percentage of Hawaii County residents with diabetes who were admitted to the hospital for uncontrolled diabetes was twice as high — 7.38 percent compared with 3.88 percent — as Oahu residents with the disease.
Vitousek said one of the priorities she sees coming out of the report is the need to continue to grow the island’s doctor population, particularly through a family medicine residency program in Hilo.
She called the decrease in the traffic fatality rate one of the most exciting improvements the report tracked.
“The North Hawaii Outcomes Project has facilitated a multisector collaboration with the (state) Department of Health, the Department of Transportation, the (Hawaii) Police Department and MADD,” she said. “The improvement suggests perhaps that’s helped.”
Traffic fatalities decreased 52 percent on Hawaii Island from 2000 to 2011, compared with a 29 percent decrease statewide, she added.
Another improvement was halving the confirmed child abuse rate on the island from 2005 to 2010, she said.
The report tracked many more indicators of health, including access to care, socioeconomic factors and disease occurrence rates. Vitousek said she would like to see more of a focus on diabetes education and prevention, as well as some focus on economic development.
“My conclusion is really great progress and lots more work to be done,” she said. “We can’t take our eyes off the focus.”