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What are Morbidity Rates?

By Erin J. Hill
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Morbidity rates refer to the number of people within a certain unit of the general population who have a certain disease or condition. The unit of population is generally 100,000, although this may vary depending on location and the condition in question. Morbidity rates are used to help determine the overall prevalence of a specific illness, as well as where the most instances of the condition occur when compared to the population as a whole.

Researchers use morbidity rates as general statistical data in determining how common a particular condition is, as well as in determining which members of the population are more likely to become afflicted. For example, some illnesses are gender- or race-specific. Scientists can determine these things by looking at morbidity rates among men and women of the population to find out who has been affected. This data can be used to provide better care for patients, as well as to develop preventative tactics to help healthy citizens avoid any risks associated with contracting the condition.

When it has been noted where within a certain population an illness has taken the biggest toll, efforts can be made in that area to provide specialized treatment for those who have been affected. For instance, if a particular area has an unusually high number of patients suffering from a particular type of cancer, clinics and treatment centers can be built with the facilities necessary to handle the patient load. Research may also be done to discover why a particular area is more prone to housing cancer victims than others.

Education is another area in which morbidity rates come in handy. For example, it has been noted that minority groups or people living in urban areas are more likely to develop human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) than those living in suburban or rural areas. Special efforts can be made as a result of these studies, to educate people in these categories about HIV prevention and treatment in order to avoid a large outbreak of cases.

In order to receive accurate data when determining morbidity rates, researchers may take polls from the general population or keep track of patients who have been diagnosed with certain illnesses in area hospitals or clinics. Morbidity rates for many conditions are not always accurate because there are generally thousands of undiagnosed cases of any particular disease at any given time. This may be as a result of lack of education about symptoms or because lower income families cannot afford to seek a medical diagnosis or proper treatment.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By starrynight — On Feb 15, 2012

I'm always really disturbed by morbidity rates. It makes it seem like catching some horrible disease when I get older is extremely probable. For example, breast cancer statistics among American women. I remember reading somewhere that something like 10% or 12% of American women develop breast cancer. That seems like a high number!

I also think it's crazy there might be so many people running around with undiagnosed diseases because of lack of access to medical care. Very sad. I wonder what our morbidity rates would look like in this country if we included those people.

By ceilingcat — On Feb 14, 2012

@JaneAir - Medical statistics are very interesting. I remember taking health, and I found lung cancer rates to be especially interesting. I remember looking at a chart that broke the rate down among different groups, including smokers and non-smokers. I was really surprised by how many older non-smokers get lung cancer.

Anyway, I think that trained people definitely need to sift through all the data. For example, say people at one location have a higher than normal rate of a certain disease. You could jump to the conclusion that the actual location is the problem, but what if it's really caused by a lifestyle trait all the people at that location share? That would affect how people in the medical field proceed to prevent the illness at that location.

By JaneAir — On Feb 13, 2012

When I took health in college, I was always very interested in morbidity rates. I remember being very surprised at the heart disease rates in women in the United States as well as the rates of certain other diseases by age group.

Also, I think it's really interesting how factors like age, race, and physical location can affect morbidity rates. I also think morbidity rates are really important for studying disease. As the article said, if one group of people is getting a disease more than other groups, people in public health can find out why and do something to solve the problem.

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