Nevadans Tops in Living It Up, and Medical Bills Show It


Nevadans’ obsession with smoking, drinking and other unhealthy behavior is showing no improvement, a survey shows. And what’s more distressing, the elderly in this graying state are particularly threatened by their unhealthy lifestyles.

“We’re so bad that we can’t go much higher,” said Judy Calder, director of the Center for Applied Research at the University of Nevada, Reno. “We are the only state that isn’t improving.”

The 1993 results released recently by Calder and Martin Atherton, the state’s chief health statistician, ranked Nevada No. 1 both in the percentage of its population that smokes and in the percentage that drinks chronically.

Nevadans also were at or near the top in the percentage of people who drink and drive and of motorists who don’t wear seat belts.


“Because our rates are so high, statistically, you’d expect a drop. We’re not dropping,” Calder said. “It was a surprise on our part that the rates didn’t go lower.”

“The train’s going in the wrong direction,” Atherton agreed.

The study, known as the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey, measured the general mental and physical health of 1,800 randomly selected adults living in Nevada. The survey was first taken in 1991.

Identical surveys are conducted annually in all states in collaboration with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which compiles the national data. Many states, however, never issue their results.


“Nevada is trying to take the lead in releasing these data,” Calder said. “We feel we need to promote public information and to get these data to the policy-makers, including legislators. We feel that decision-makers need to have this information.”

The findings show that 30% of all Nevada adults smoke, while 10% of all men and 2% of all women average two alcoholic drinks or more a day.

One of the most shocking findings, Calder said, was that 23% of respondents aged 65-74 said they were ill 15 days or more during the previous month.

“Our elderly population, at least in Nevada, is really in bad shape,” she said. “Twenty-three percent of them spent half a month unable to care for themselves. We were so shocked when we saw those results. We did not expect them.”


Atherton said that with 18% to 20% of all Nevadans falling in the older category, “it’s a big chunk of people. Nevada’s senior population appears to be at a disproportionate health risk based on these ‘quality of life’ indicators.”

Calder said the statistics are particularly upsetting since 14% of the people in the state between the ages of 55 and 64 have no health insurance. That number drops to a fraction for people 65 and over because they become eligible for Medicare and Medicaid.

The survey showed that the largest percentages of uninsured people--36%--are in the 18-24 age bracket. Forty-four percent of those who earn less than $10,000 have no insurance.

“It’s the low income, less educated who tend to be more at risk,” Calder said. “We’re trying to change behavior or modify behavior among a group that’s tough to reach. How do we take care of these people?


“As the national health care debate proceeds, we believe the issue of health care coverage is important for Nevada--especially given the state’s unusually high percentage of people at risk,” Calder said.

The study also reported that 7.2% of all men and 1.6% of all women said they had driven under the influence at least once in the past month. A quarter of all men and 15.8% of all women admitted that they sometimes, seldom or never wore seat belts.