SPECIAL REPORT: CDC says state's life expectancy fourth lowest in the nation

Published: Mar. 22, 2017 at 11:09 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 2, 2017 at 10:18 AM CDT
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LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - In a state that's famous for letting the good times roll, there's an abundance of good food and fun times, but all of that comes with a price tag.

The average life expectancy in the United States is 78.8 years; in Louisiana, it's 75.7. That's the fourth-lowest in the nation. There are many factors within the state that are the cause.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in 2014, more than 43,000 people died in Louisiana. The number one killer was heart disease - the second was cancer.

"They account for 88 percent of all deaths in the United States," said Dr. Bertrand Foch, Department of Health, Region 5 administrator and medical director.

He said there are only preventable behaviors to blame.

"What's leading to these chronic diseases - we know that obesity, as well as physical inactivity and smoking, are the top behavioral causes of early death of people in the U.S.," said Foch.

Louisiana now has the highest rate of adult obesity in the country, according to the annual State of Obesity report.

"The obesity leads to the diabetes, which also leads to hypertension, which makes you at a bigger earlier risk for heart trouble," said  Dr. Christopher Thompson, interventional cardiologist at Lake Charles Memorial Hospital.

He said he sees a lot of cases of coronary disease - or blocked arteries.

"If they can just even just reduce their weight by 3-5 percent, they make a huge dent in their risk for diabetes development or even the treatment of diabetes and it reduces their risk for hypertension, it lowers their potential need for medicines and risk of heart trouble," said Thompson.

All that's needed for the average adult to keep active is 150 minutes a week.

But diet needs to change as well.

"It's a cultural problem, as well as a health problem, when fast food and fried food and crawfish and boudin, and all these things, are engrained in the culture - that's a tough thing to fight," said John O'Donnell, coalition coordinator of a Healthier SWLA.

"It's normal now to see overweight people and we've just kind of gotten complacent to that and that's not a good thing," said O'Donnell.

He said the issue with poor eating habits in the state can go a little deeper than the average American's fast food craving.

"We're also 49th in the nation for poverty - impoverished communities have trouble moving around; they don't have neighborhoods that are safe; fast food is cheaper than healthy food. They don't have access to healthy food; I mean even here in Lake Charles, there are areas in town where you can't get healthy food from the supermarket, but there's a Popeyes," said O'Donnell.

That's why health initiatives in the area are focused on changing the societal value of health while also bringing healthy food and education to citizens and what O'Donnell calls a health in all policies approach.

A Healthier SWLA is working on a project in Lake Charles called complete streets, promoting a healthier living through infrastructure - like walking and bike paths - to encourage residents to use public transit.

The coalition has also partnered with the State Department of Health's "Well Ahead" Louisiana initiative.

"It aims at improving the health and wellness of Louisiana citizens; it promotes recognizing smart, healthy choices in the spaces and places of everyday life," said Foch.

The initiative has brought what's called 'WellSpots' to the area. Businesses, hospitals, schools, restaurants, childcare centers and colleges that become WellSpots meet benchmarks, like offering healthy food choices or becoming tobacco-free.

Twenty-four percent of the state's population reported smoking at least 100 cigarettes in their lifetimes and currently, they smoke every or some days, according to the 2015 United Health Foundation's annual report.

The Calcasieu Parish Police Jury recently voted to ban smoking and vaping in parish buildings and parks.

Foch said cutting down on these health risk behaviors is not only good for your health, but good for the taxpayers' pockets.

"Of course, these chronic conditions cost Louisiana billions of dollars each year, so making these smart, healthier choices not only helps the individual, but can save state taxpayer dollars for treating these chronic diseases," said Foch.

Health professionals in the area feel hopeful about the community's push towards a healthier lifestyle.

"So all of that taken together, I think we've taken huge strides to improve health in Southwest Louisiana," said Foch.

Click HERE to learn about Healthier SWLA.

Click HERE to learn about Well-Ahead Louisiana.

Click HERE for more health statistics by parish.

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