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New Suicide Statistics Demonstrate Value of Data Coordination for Vital Statistics

By Nick Hart, Anand Parekh, MD

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

A new analysis from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) suggests suicide rates in the United States not only increased between 1999 and 2016, but that in some states the rates increased by more than 50 percent. This new statistical analysis identifies a substantial public health concern for policymakers to consider, particularly given that rates declined in only one state in the entire country: Nevada.

In addition to providing insights about a growing public health concern, the study also demonstrates the critical role that statistical agencies, such as NCHS, play in monitoring trends and key indicators for the country. The data used to generate these statistics are gathered through a partnership with every state in the country as part of the National Vital Statistics System.

The National Vital Statistics System is one of the oldest data sharing partnerships in the federal government. In the system, NCHS establishes data standards and mechanisms for common reporting for comparability of the data across jurisdictions. Through contracts with NCHS, states share data collected on births and deaths to support national health statistics. In turn, states receive valuable information back that enables public health comparisons across states. The partnership also enables NCHS to produce studies that provide valuable insights about trends in public health issues.

In addition to providing insights about a growing public health concern, the study also demonstrates the critical role that statistical agencies play in monitoring trends and key indicators for the country

In 2017, the U.S. Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking highlighted the NCHS vital statistics partnership for its ability to provide useful statistics publicly, while also enabling researchers to access detailed, confidential data to support related research in secure, controlled settings.

The value of the National Vital Statistics System in supporting evidence-based policymaking is also apparent in these key statistics:

  • The rate of drug overdose deaths in the United States increased by 21 percent from 2015 to 2016, with the highest rate by state in West Virginia. These data provide an important input for policy debates about trends in the scale of the opioid epidemic.
  • While infant mortality has fallen precipitously in the United States, variation across states ranges from 3 per 1,000 live births in Massachusetts to 9.1 in Mississippi. When stratified by race and ethnicity, even more extreme variations are present. For example, non-Hispanic black women see infant mortality rates ranging from 8.3 in Massachusetts to 14.3 in Wisconsin. These data suggest state policy solutions may need to vary in identifying the best strategies for further reducing infant mortality.
  • In 2015, the average individual in the American public is expected to live to the age of 78.8 years. These data are useful for projecting long-term government spending and retirement needs.

The partnership between NCHS and state and local jurisdictions provides the ability to use this critical information to guide public policy, and to ultimately provide public health services that improve individuals’ lives.


Note: The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides free and confidential support. Help is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255. 

KEYWORDS: COMMISSION ON EVIDENCE-BASED POLICYMAKING