Study: Low Death Rate for Big Pine Key Residents

By Robert Silk Free Press Staff rsilk@keysnews.com

Big Pine Key

Big Pine Key

At least by one measurement, the 3,900 residents of Big Pine, No Name and Bahia Honda keys have among the best health outcomes in Monroe County. The 2015 Community Health Improvement Plan, released earlier this month by the Monroe County Department of Health, shows that the Big Pine area’s mortality rate is well below the county average on five leading causes of death.Between 2008 and 2012, the years upon which the health plan’s data is based, the area’s death rate from lung cancer, other types of cancers and heart disease was less than half of the average for both Monroe County at-large and for the state of Florida. The Big Pine area’s death rates from unintentional injuries and from liver disease were also well below the county average. Combined, an average of just 2.2 people per thousand in the Big Pine area died each year between 2008 and 2012 from those causes, according to the Department of Health. That’s second lowest of the micro-communities into which the department divided the Florida Keys for purposes of the study.

Only the neighboring residents in Cudjoe, Summerland, Ramrod and Big, Little and Middle Torch keys fared better, with an average annual mortality rate of 1.6 people per thousand from cancer, liver disease, heart disease and accidental injury. In contrast, central and western Marathon fared the worst in the Keys, with an annual death rate from those causes of 9.9 people per thousand.

Alison Morales, the Department of Health’s lead researcher for the Monroe County Community Health Improvement Plan, cautioned against reading too much into the mortality figures, especially in light of the small sample size within Big Pine and the other Keys micro-communities.

There were a total of 194 deaths in the Big Pine area between 2008 and 2012, state data shows, with cancer being the largest cause of death, taking 61 victims. Still, Morales said one can at least infer that Big Pine’s low mortality rate is related to the availability of medical care as well as the area’s abundance of parks. Generally, areas with fewer bars also see lower rates of liver disease than those with more options for alcohol consumption, she added. “We can say that this group of people are taking care of themselves,” Morales said cautiously.

In the western half of Marathon, where health outcomes were the worst in the Keys between 2008 and 2012, residents surveyed by the Department of Health expressed concern about a shortage of physicians, the lack of a community pool and about the dearth of affordable housing in the area. When people spend too much of their income on rent, they often choose to forsake medications, health screenings and other health services, Morales said in an October Department of Health press release. Per capita income in central and western Marathon is $29,600, $6,000 less than it is in the Big Pine area.

In an interview last week, Big Pine family physician Pasquale Dell’Api said he can’t be sure why the mortality rate in the area has been better in recent years than other Keys communities. But did offer an educated guess. “Just from my observation as far as my patients go, a lot of people take care of their health and they try to practice healthy lifestyles,” Dell’Api said. “Exercising and eating well.”

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