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Short Life Expectancy, High Infant Mortality Among Arkansas's "Big Health Problems"

Arkansas Department of Health report highlights work being done to tackle them.
LITTLE ROCK, AR (News release) - A new report, “Arkansas’s Big Health Problems and How We Plan to Solve Them,” shows short life expectancy, high infant mortality and low health literacy are three of the most pressing public health concerns in Arkansas. 

The report includes Arkansas-specific information on the following: demographics, life expectancy, infant mortality, health literacy, the cost of poor health, issues in rural health, health equity, emerging public health issues, and plans to improve the health of the state. 

“We know there are multiple factors that affect the health of individuals and the population,” said Nate Smith, M.D., M.P.H., State Health Officer and Director of the Arkansas Department of Health. “In order for Arkansas to become a healthier state, we must all work together to address these factors. We hope this report empowers individuals, leaders and organizations to take steps to make their communities healthier.”

In 2008, the average life expectancy in Arkansas was 76 years, compared to the U.S. average age of 78. All but three of the state’s 75 counties had life expectancies lower than the national average and Phillips County has the shortest life expectancy at 69.8 years. The state’s infant mortality rate in 2009 was 7.3 deaths per 1,000 births, compared to the national rate of 6.4 deaths per 1,000 births. In addition, many Arkansans lack health literacy, which is defined as how well someone can get and use information to make choices about their health. It is estimated that 37 percent of the adults in the state have low health literacy. The report also states that there are 7,600 homes without plumbing; 11,000 without kitchens; 47,000 homes with no phone service; and 73,000 homes with no cars, vans or trucks available for transportation. 

The report, compiled by the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) uses simple, easy-to-read language to provide a general overview of the big health problems in Arkansas. The report also highlights some of the work being done to address the health problems and plans in place for the future. 

 “What sets this report apart from others is that we tried to make it easy to read, especially for those who do not have a medical background,” said Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, Medical Advisor for Health Literacy and Communication at ADH and co-author of the report. “We hope that writing it this way will make it easier for people to understand the issues and take action for themselves and their communities.”

The report was written by a team with representatives from ADH, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Center for Rural Health, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement. The report also serves as the State Health Assessment and Improvement Plan as part of the requirements for the Department’s accreditation through the Public Health Accreditation Board.
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