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Chronic DiseasE

Chronic diseases and conditions—such as heart attacks and stroke, cancers, respiratory diseases and diabetes—are the leading causes of death and disability in the United States. They not only impact how long we live, but also the quality of life we experience during those years. 

Six in ten adults in the U.S. have at least one chronic disease, and four in ten adults have two or more. 

Chronic diseases are the leading drivers of the nation’s $4.1 trillion in annual health care costs, with an estimated $98 billion spent in CA and an estimated $844 million spent in SLO County each year to treat the six most common chronic diseases. 

They are also the most preventable category of illnesses as they are largely caused by just four behaviors: tobacco use, poor nutrition, physical inactivity, and excessive alcohol use.

STROKE

A stroke occurs when something blocks blood supply to part of the brain or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts, causing parts of the brain to become damaged or die. A stroke can cause lasting brain damage, long-term disability, and death.

In SLO County, strokes are a leading cause of death, accounting for an estimated 56.8 deaths per 100,000 population. This is much greater than the CA average over the same time period (37.2 deaths per 100,000 population) and the Healthy People 2030 target of 33.4 deaths per 100,000 population.

See how it compares to other leading causes of death in SLO County here.

57

age-adjusted death rate (per 100,000 people) from stroke in SLO County
37

age-adjusted d
eath rate (per 100,000 people) from stroke in CA
Heart Disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in SLO County. Heart disease is a term that encompasses a variety of different diseases affecting the heart. The most common type of heart disease, coronary heart disease, occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries that supply blood to the heart and the arteries narrow (atherosclerosis). As the arteries narrow, the flow of blood to the heart can slow or stop, causing chest pain, shortness of breath, a heart attack, or other symptoms.

 

Certain health behaviors, like smoking, eating an unhealthy diet, and not getting enough exercise, all increase the risk for heart disease. Having high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes also increases the risk for heart disease.

In SLO County, coronary heart disease accounts for an estimated 52 deaths per 100,000 population. This is less than the CA average over the same time period (79 deaths per 100,000 population) and the Healthy People 2030 target of 71.1 deaths per 100,000 population.

 

See how it compares to other leading causes of death in SLO County here.

52

age-adjusted death rate (per 100,000 people) from coronary heart disease in SLO County
79

age-adjusted d
eath rate (per 100,000 people) from coronary heart disease in CA
OBESITY

Obesity is a common, costly and serious chronic issue, costing the United States healthcare system nearly $173 billion a year. Adults who are overweight or obese have a higher risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. Compared with children at a healthy weight, children with obesity are at higher risk for a range of health problems, including asthma, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes.

Adults who are overweight or Obese, SLO VS. CA (%)
Source: California Health Interview Survey (CHIS). Due to small sample sizes in SLO County, data is shown as 3-year averages.
Students who are overweight or obese, 5th grade, SLO County

For many years, obesity rates among children in California have been monitored through the CA Department of Education's Physical Fitness Test. Rates of obesity have increased in recent decades, with rates in SLO County increasing and the national childhood obesity rate more than tripling. The rise has been attributed to changes in food environments that make non-nutritious food more available, affordable, and appealing, as well as social and environmental changes that have reduced physical activity among children.

35%

proportion of overweight or obese 5th graders in SLO County
41%

proportion of overweight or obese 5th graders in CA
Source: California Dept. of Education, Physical Fitness Testing Research Files (2019).
Source: California Dept. of Education, Physical Fitness Testing Research Files. Percent of SLO County 5th Graders who are Overweight or Obese. Accessed June 2023.

Note: Number includes percentage of public school students in grades 5 with body composition falling above the "Healthy Fitness Zone" of the FitnessGram assessment. These data are based on body mass index.
Percent of 5th graders who are overweight or obese, by school in SLO County

A report on the state of obesity in CA, using the Physical Fitness Test assessment, notes a wide divide in obesity rates among students based upon economic disadvantage, with students who are economically disadvantaged having an obesity rate that is more than double the rate of students who are from households that are not economically disadvantaged.

 

While 35% of SLO County 5th graders are overweight or obese countywide, the number varies widely between schools — often aligning with the relative prosperity of the students who go there.

Cancer

Cancer is a genetic disease—that is, it is caused by changes to genes that control the way cells function, especially how they grow and divide. While some of the factors are inherited at birth, others are influenced by lifestyle and environmental factors.

In SLO County, cancer is a leading cause of deathThe county also has a slightly higher age-adjusted death rate due to cancer than the state overall.

 

See how it compares to other leading causes of death in SLO County here.

413

Age-adjusted cancer rate (for all cancers) in SLO County
400

Age-adjusted cancer rate (for all cancers) in CA
127

age-adjusted death rate (per 100,000 people) from all cancers in SLO County
125

age-adjusted d
eath rate (per 100,000 people) from all cancers in CA
Diabetes

Diabetes is a disease that affects how the body turns food into energy. With diabetes, your body doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use it as well as it should. In the last 20 years, the number of adults diagnosed with diabetes has more than doubled in the U.S. The most common type of diabetes is type 2 diabetes, which accounts for about 90 percent to 95 percent of all diagnosed cases.

7%

Adults ever diagnosed with diabetes in SLO County
11%

Adults ever diagnosed with diabetes in CA
13

age-adjusted death rate (per 100,000 people) from diabetes in SLO County
23

age-adjusted d
eath rate (per 100,000 people) from diabetes in CA
dEMENTIA & ALZHEIMER'S Disease

Dementia is a general term for the impaired ability to remember, think, or make decisions that interferes with doing everyday activities. 

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for 60-80% of cases. It affects nearly 6 million Americans and is caused by specific changes in the brain that make it difficult to remember recent events, like conversations, or to recollect common words.

Within the next twenty years, the number of persons living with Alzheimer’s disease in SLO County is projected to more than double. This has implications for families, caregivers, and for specialized care in the area.

27

age-adjusted death rate (per 100,000 people) from Alzheimer's Disease in SLO County
37

age-adjusted d
eath rate (per 100,000 people) from Alzheimer's Disease in CA
ESTIMATED NUMBER of PEOPLE AGE 55+ in SLO COUNTY WITH ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE - 2019, 2025, AND 2040
Asthma

Asthma is a chronic disease that affects your lungs and is characterized by repeated episodes of wheezing, breathlessness and chest tightness. It affects a person's quality of life, productivity at work and school, and accounts for an average annual health care cost of more than $3,266 per person. It is one of the most common chronic diseases among children in the U.S. and a leading cause of pediatric hospitalization.

22%

Adults ever diagnosed with asthma in SLO County
16%

Adults ever diagnosed with asthma in CA
Adults with asthma in slo county (%)
Source: California Health Interview Survey (CHIS). Due to small sample sizes in SLO County, data is shown as 3-year averages.
Oral Health

Oral health is essential to general health and well-being. Cavities (also known as caries or tooth decay) are the most common chronic disease of childhood in the U.S., and over half of children have had a cavity by age eight. ​

In SLO County, an elementary school screening survey of kindergarten and third grade children (N=1,642) from 15 public elementary schools found that 52% of the kindergarten and third grade children have decay experience and 12% have untreated tooth decay. The survey noted that schools with more economically disadvantaged students have higher rates of both decay experience and untreated tooth decay.

 

Cavities can be costly and painful and can lead to missed days of school and work. Good oral health habits, like brushing twice a day, flossing and visiting your dentist twice a year, can help prevent cavities.

52%

of Kindergarten and 3rd grade students with decay experience in SLO County
12%

of Kindergarten and 3rd grade students with untreated tooth decay in SLO County
71%

of adults have been to the dentist in the past year in SLO County
67%

of adults have been to the dentist in the past year in CA
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