Mortality Statistics: 2005 Update
Chester J. Zelasko, Ph.D. | October 11, 2005

Maybe you’ve seen this commercial: A woman looks into the camera and says something like “I wish I had known.” Across the screen flashes pictures of a young woman in her 20s and then the text “Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women.”

While that’s true, heart disease is not the leading cause of death for women in their 20s as the ad suggests. The focus of this Newsletter is to review recently published mortality (death rate) statistics. The trends in causes of death may surprise you.

Researchers for the American Cancer Society recently analyzed mortality data from the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (1). They examined the causes of death in the United States between 1970 and 2002 to see what, if any, changes occurred.

The surprising statistic is that the death rate has decreased by 32% since 1970 from 1,242 deaths per 100,000 people to 845 from all causes. However, not all individual causes of death have decreased:
  • Deaths from heart disease and stroke have decreased 52% and 63% respectively, an amazing achievement. (Remember that the next time you hear someone bashing the healthcare system and pharmaceutical companies.)

  • Deaths from accidents have decreased 41%--probably due to the use of seatbelts and the lowering of the speed limit in the 1970s and 1980s.

  • Deaths from all types of cancer have decreased 2.7%. The researchers note that the decrease in the number of smokers is only now beginning to reduce deaths from lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer deaths.

  • However deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and diabetes, while still relatively low, are increasing.
Examining the mortality rate from diseases in different age groups brings perspective to the opening statement of this Newsletter:
  • Over the age of 75, heart disease is the leading cause of death for women and men.
  • Between 40 and 75, cancer is the leading cause of death.
  • Below 40, the leading cause of death is accidents.
There are always exceptions, such as the 22-year-old Arizona State basketball player who died from a blood clot in her lungs, but these data provide a clearer picture of what people die of and at what ages. There is also an obvious picture from this data: the older you are, the greater the probability that you will die. That’s not meant to be humorous or to state the obvious--it means that if we take care of ourselves throughout our lifespan, we can live a long, productive, and most importantly, a healthy life. Most of us would agree with the lyric from the Kenny Rogers song “The Gambler”: “The most you can hope for is to die in your sleep.” And let’s add “as old as possible.”

How are you going to do that? By adopting a lifestyle that’s consistent with living long. That lifestyle includes:
  • Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables.
  • Exercising regularly.
  • Maintaining a normal body weight.
  • Getting regular physicals to identify and treat disease as early as possible.
  • Wearing your seatbelts when you drive or are a passenger in a vehicle.
  • Never smoking or quitting as soon as possible.
I could go on, but you already know the things you need to do. Make your health a priority because the last thing we at Better Life Unlimited want is for you to be a mortality statistic one second before you absolutely must. Your health is in your hands; don’t drop the ball.

  1. Jemal, A., et al. Trends in the Leading Cause of Death in the United States, 1970-2002. JAMA. 2005;294:1255-1259.
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