Objectives: We compared the strength of association between average 5-year county-level mortality rates and area-level measures, including air quality, sociodemographic characteristics, violence, and economic distress.
Methods: . We obtained mortality data from the National Vital Statistics System and linked it to socioeconomic and demographic data from the Census Bureau, air quality data, violent crime statistics, and loan delinquency data. We modeled 5-year average mortality rates (1998-2002) for all-cause, cancer, heart disease, stroke, and respiratory diseases as a function of county-level characteristics using ordinary least squares regression models. We limited analyses to counties with population of 100,000 or greater (n = 458).
Results: Demographic and socioeconomic characteristics, particularly the percentage older than 65 years and near poor, were top predictors of all-cause and condition-specific mortality, as were a high concentration of construction and service workers. We found weaker associations for air quality, mortgage delinquencies, and violent crimes. Protective characteristics included the percentage of Hispanics, Asians, and married residents.
Conclusions: Multiple factors influence county-level mortality. Although county demographic and socioeconomic characteristics are important, there are independent, although weaker, associations of other environmental characteristics. Future studies should investigate these factors to better understand community mortality risk.