Stilwell not ‘death capital’ after all, CN leaders told
A Centers for Disease Control & Prevention study released in 2018 showed Stilwell as having the lowest life expectancy in the country. On Feb. 10, Cherokee Nation health officials told tribal councilors that was not the case after all. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
STILWELL – Dubbed by Oklahoma leaders as the Strawberry Capital of the World in 1949, Stilwell is no longer the “death capital” of the country as suggested in a study nearly 70 years later, Cherokee Nation health officials say.
“I didn’t buy it from the get-go,” Tribal Councilor Shawn Crittenden, whose district lies in Adair County, said. “The lowest life expectancy in the United States? But if I move to Watts, which is just a few miles up the road, I’m alright?”
The city of Stilwell made national headlines in 2018 for having the lowest life expectancy in America following the release of a Centers for Disease Control & Prevention study. The CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics suggested that Stilwell residents are expected to live an average of 56.3 years, which is 22.5 years lower than the national average.
On Feb. 10, CN Public Health Senior Director Lisa Pivec offered tribal councilors “welcome news” that the study’s original author is updating Stilwell’s life expectancy to 74 years of age based on initial discrepancies in data gathering.
“I do think that in this instance it’s good that we were very professional about it, we did our own research, we pushed back,” Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. “The regrettable thing is, No. 1, the data was wrong in the first place, and No. 2, it did take some time for the original place that did the analysis to concede that they were wrong.”
After The Washington Post declared the “Strawberry Capital of the World is the early death capital of the U.S.,” Stilwell’s unfortunate designation spread across the country and has loomed since. Tribal Councilor Canaan Duncan, the tribe’s other Adair County representative, hopes it becomes clear to all that Stilwell “is not the death capital.”
“I’m glad that our Public Health staff pushed the issue with the CDC,” Duncan said. “I think it should give the citizens of Stilwell hope.”
Nearly half of the estimated 4,000 Stilwell residents are Native American, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
CN health officials said the study in question represented the years 2010-15. During that stretch, there were 1,408 deaths in Adair County, which listed an average life expectancy of 70.9 years.
“We always need to remember we’ve got health challenges across the Cherokee Nation,” Hoskin said, “challenges that are unique to Native Americans. We’ve got to keep working on them, and that includes Adair County and all 14 counties.”
The U.S. Small-area Life Expectancy Estimates Project was a joint effort of the CDC and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It listed the second-lowest life expectancy at 56.9 years in Logan, West Virginia.