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CDC takes back data on farmer suicide

Friday, the Centers for Disease Control sent an email that walked back its own data claiming that farmers have the highest suicide rate in the U.S.

July 1, 2018
Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer ( , Estherville News

Headlines have alerted readers and listeners throughout the agricultural heartland that farmers have the highest rate of suicide in the nation. The statistic came from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in July, 2016, and health care providers, researchers, farm service organizations, and others on the state and local level, have scrambled to find the source of immediate issues and stem the tide.

The CDC's email, dated Friday, June 22, states a coding issue of occupations is at the root of the misreporting. The agency vowed to "work to correct the data to meet our usual standards for excellence."

The note added, "Suicide is a serious public health problem that can have lasting harmful effects on individuals, families and communities."

For the category Farming, Fishing and Forestry Occupations, the CDC reported, "the Bureau of Labor Statistics Standard Occupation Classification System, which is used to assign occupation codes to each suicide death, and the U.S. Census Bureau's Current Population Survey March Supplement classify farmers and ranchers under "Management Occupations." This led to the overestimation of the rate of suicide in the Farming, Fishing & Forestry group and underestimation of the rate among Managers."

The misstep affected 90 cases analyzed in the CDC's study.

The revision ranks occupations in the Farming, Fishing & Forestry category as having the third highest suicide rate, rather than the first, after Construction and Extraction and Installation, Maintenance and Repair occupational groups.

A result of the mistake that could have nationwide and long-reaching consequences is the fact that farmers, who are predominantly white and have a median income of $79,000 according to the Department of Labor, have access to a program designed to increase mental health services, included in the farm bill. The way it is written in the current farm bill , according to Nathan Rosenberg, a lawyer and researcher who focuses on inequality, food systems, and the environment, would have restricted, if not excluded agricultural workers, who have a median income of $23,000 and are predominantly Latino.

As of Friday morning, the Senate had adjusted language to include agricultural workers in its farm bill wording for mental health support.

The email further stated, "Suicide rates are higher in rural American than in urban Americathe gap in suicide rates between rural and urban areas grew steadily from 1999 to 2015. Individuals living and working in rural communities are at higher risk of suicide regardless of their occupation."

The CDC stated, "We apologize for any misrepresentation."

For any Iowan with depression, anxiety and/or thoughts of suicide, there is help 24 hours per day at Chat conversation on the site is available as well as voice calls and texting at 1-855-800-1239.



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