A city report that assesses the health of Portland residents compared to the state median reveals that they are much younger than typical Mainers, less likely to smoke, binge-drink or be obese, but are more likely to have contracted a sexually transmitted disease or die of a drug overdose.

Portland residents also are more likely to have children in the home living in poverty, but are better at sending their children to school with up-to-date immunizations.

Bucking a national trend, Portland’s school-age black population, despite having much higher rates of childhood poverty, are less likely to be absent from school when compared to the white students in the city.

The first-ever Health of Portland report will be presented to the City Council’s health and human services committee on Tuesday.

Kristen Dow, Portland’s health and human services director, said the report will be used in the coming months to develop a community health plan for the city.

“Now we know the ‘what,’ so we need to really work on the ‘how’ and the ‘why,'” Dow said. “It will really drive the focus of the public health division.”

While Maine is the oldest state in the nation – with a median age of 44.9 – Portland, with a median age of 36, is not only much younger than the state median, but also younger than the national median of 38.2. The younger skew of Portland residents are likely factors in other health trends, such as levels of sexually transmitted disease, and perhaps smoking and obesity. For instance, those under 40 are less likely to be obese, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Maine is an older state, but we are finding that Portland itself has become a hub for young adults,” said Hayley Prevatt, a program coordinator and researcher for the city’s public health division. Prevatt said knowing the demographics of the city will help determine what the needs of the community are and how to respond.

Among the report’s findings:
• Sexually transmitted diseases are much higher in Portland than the state median. Chlamydia rates were 544 per 100,000 population compared to the state rate of 341 per 100,000 people. Gonorrhea was 131.6 cases per 100,0000 compared to the Maine rate of 43.2 per 100,000. Prevatt said aside from having a younger population, Portland is a medical hub and has a city-run clinic where people can easily get tested and treated for STDs. Prevatt said that likely means there are less undiagnosed sexually transmitted diseases in Portland compared to other areas of the state.

• Smoking rates were 16.5 percent in Portland compared to the Maine median of 19.8 percent.

• Obesity rates were 10.6 percent in Portland for high school students compared to the Maine median of 15 percent. For adults, obesity rates in Portland were 26.3 percent, while the statewide median was 29.9 percent.

• One in four children in Portland lived in poverty compared to 17.2 percent in Maine.

• Parents are sending their children to school in Portland with immunizations, with only 1.6 percent of kindergarten students being opted out of vaccines for philosophic reasons. Statewide, it was 4.6 percent philosophic opt-outs. Maine lawmakers last year approved a law that would eliminate all philosophic and religious exemptions to school-required vaccines, which would be effective starting in 2021. A group opposed to the law has forced the issue onto the March ballot as a people’s veto.

• Despite blacks having much higher poverty rates – 61.7 percent compared to the white poverty rate of 10.7 percent – black parents in Portland are better at sending children to school. The absenteeism rate for black children in Portland was 10.7 percent compared to 14.5 percent for the white population in Portland. Nationally, the Economic Policy Institute reports that 23 percent of black students missed three or more days of school in the previous month compared to 18.3 percent of white students.

• Drug overdose deaths are much higher in Portland compared to the state – 66.2 deaths per 100,000 population in Portland compared to 26.45 per 100,000 in Maine.


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