In a country as large as the United States, national averages can quickly lose all meaning. Deaths from alcohol use disorders, for example, have dropped nationally by 8.1 percent since 1980. But in some counties, deaths have doubled in that same timeframe.
The question of why isn’t an easy one to answer. Health data on suicides, drug overdoses, and alcohol abuse are severely lacking. Most studies trying to look at county-level data are from the ‘80s and ‘90s, so even if policy makers want to figure out where the problem areas are, they don’t have access to sufficiently detailed information. That’s exactly what a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association aims to fix.
“Progress overall doesn’t mean progress for everyone,” explains Laura Dwyer-Lindgren, an Assistant Professor of Global Health at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and lead author of the study. “We hope that this research can be used to identify communities that are struggling and highlight where there are opportunities for improving health.”