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New death data for American Indian/Alaska Native population paint same grim picture

The most comprehensive report to date of mortality statistics among the American Indian or Alaska Native (AIAN) population warns of some troubling trends.

Death data for the American Indian or Alaska Native population have been hard to come by, in part because an estimated one-third of death certificates misclassify race and ethnicity in that population.

A new report on 2019 AIAN mortality by the National Vital Statistics System tries to correct those errors.

It finds people who were non-Hispanic AIAN had higher mortality rates overall, for most of the leading causes of death and at younger ages.

The report made special note of mortality from chronic liver disease, suicide and unintentional injuries. The group also had the lowest life expectancy at birth, trailing the Black population by three years and the Hispanic population by 10.

The findings parallel those of earlier reports. 

Nicholas Gerbis joined KJZZ’s Arizona Science Desk in 2016. A longtime science, health and technology journalist and editor, his extensive background in related nonprofit and science communications inform his reporting on Earth and space sciences, neuroscience and behavioral health, and bioscience/biotechnology.Apart from travel and three years in Delaware spent earning his master’s degree in physical geography (climatology), Gerbis has spent most of his life in Arizona. He also holds a master’s degree in journalism and mass communication from Arizona State University’s Cronkite School and a bachelor’s degree in geography (climatology/meteorology), also from ASU.Gerbis briefly “retired in reverse” and moved from Arizona to Wisconsin, where he taught science history and science-fiction film courses at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He is glad to be back in the Valley and enjoys contributing to KJZZ’s Untold Arizona series.During the COVID-19 pandemic, Gerbis focused almost solely on coronavirus-related stories and analysis. In addition to reporting on the course of the disease and related research, he delved into deeper questions, such as the impact of shutdowns on science and medicine, the roots of vaccine reluctance and the policies that exacerbated the virus’s impact, particularly on vulnerable populations.