Health Department pegs two areas of Marathon as being the most disease-prone in the Keys

rmccarthy@keynoter.comJuly 9, 2014 

Monroe County Health Department interns Priscilla Bennett (left) and Christina Genet invite 'west' and 'central' Marathon residents (Seven Mile Bridge to 70th Street) to take a survey at Sombrero Beach on July 4. Results are used to promote health initiatives and partnerships.

ALISON KERR

"West" and "central" Marathon are perhaps the unhealthiest areas in all of the Florida Keys, according to a Monroe County Health Department study.

According to "age-adjusted" data the agency compiled in May and released last week, those two areas from 2008 through 2012 had more instances of death, cancer, liver disease, heart disease and unintentional injury than most of the Keys' 26 "micro-communities."

"I must warn you that these numbers should be interpreted with caution," Health Department health educator consultant Alison Kerr said.

The U.S. Census Bureau determines what micro-communities are depending on demographics and population characteristics, Kerr said.

West Marathon is the 3.34-square-mile area from the Seven Mile Bridge to roughly Sombrero Beach Road, while central Marathon is the 1.83-square-mile area from that road east to 70th Street.

The statistics Kerr used to compile data for an upcoming community health improvement plan came via the Census Bureau and Florida Department of Health. The most recent CHIP, as it's called, was released in 2013.

Kerr said age-adjusted rates essentially give a more accurate reflection than crude data used in 2013. The five-year sample set provides more data given the Keys' small population.

The method involves using the "standard population of the U.S. from 2000" while collecting data in each area, as opposed to actual data from each micro-community.

The CHIP compiles data from several categories, primarily some of the country's largest killers. It compares death, all cancers, lung cancer specifically, chronic liver disease, unintentional injury, heart disease and teen pregnancy rates Keyswide.

According to Kerr's findings, west and central Marathon ranked second and third, respectively, in "all death" rates per 1,000 residents at 68.61 and 48.97. They finished behind only the so-called Casa Marina District in Key West, a likely outlier at 99.32 due to its minimal population.

West and central Marathon also finished first (24.56) and second (23.87) in the "all cancer" death rate per 1,000 residents, well ahead of any area but Casa Marina. The next closest was the Lake Surprise area in North Key Largo at 12.98 per 1,000.

West and central Marathon also ranked third (16.98) and fourth (15.32) in heart disease per 1,000 residents. New Town West finished second at 17.73, while Casa Marina was first at 26.33.

In response to Kerr's findings, the Health Department is actively attempting to survey 351 -- the optimal sample set, she says -- west and central Marathon residents about their community.

The survey asks residents to address their top three community concerns before asking several questions related to cancer, heart and liver disease, and unintentional injury.

Kerr said the Health Department would use the findings to have "a community meeting and address the results and have them [help] determine the best way to approach" improvements.

Anyone living in the west or central areas of Marathon can take the Health Department survey at www.tinyurl.com/keyssurvey1 through July. For more information, call 393-1276. 

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