How we die
February 28, 2004

Remember all those sci-fi stories where people learn the date and cause of their own death? "Life-Line" by Robert Heinlein is one that pops to mind, but there are many others.

Well, you may not be able to tell when you will die, but you can make a pretty good guess what you may die of, based on age-related statistics published by the CDC. The latest final statistics are for 2001, so this is based on those numbers. The complete report can be found here: Leading causes of death for 2001

Note for clarity: percentages given in the samples below are the percent of the total people in a given age group that actually died in 2001, not the percentage of all people in that age group.

Note 2 : 2001 data includes the 3028 deaths they were certain of by the publish date of the statistics caused by the terror attacks on September 11. Of these, 2,922 are classified as homicides and 4 as suicides. Only residents of the United States are counted in these statistics.

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Posted by ellen at February 28, 2004 09:36 PM

LITTLE BOYS - beware of accidents
If you are male, and happen to die between the ages of 1-4, the cause is most likely to be an accident or unintentional injury. Of the 2899 boys that died between those ages, 36% died of accidents, and 9.7% of birth defects.

It is surprising to find that the third most common cause of death in very young boys is murder - 8.2% or 238 boys from 1-4 years old were due to homicide in 2001.

MEN - heart disease is not just an older man's problem
Of the 28,757 men 25-34 years of age that died in 2001, 7.2% died of heart disease. That might not sound like a large percentage, but it works out to 2068 young men, or about 2/3 as many as died in the World Trade Center. And this is just for a single year!

This percentage more than doubles by the time men reach the ages of 35-44. Of the 58,164 men who were 35-44 years old that died of any cause in 2001, 16.1% died of heart disease - a total of 9,346 young men in one year dying mainly from clogged arteries.

Between 45 and 54 years, of the 104,848 men that died in 2001, 1/4 or 25.1% died of heart disease. That is 26,280 men dying of heart disease in a single year! At that age, heart disease becomes the leading cause of death, exceeding accidents and all other causes. However, following close on heart disease's heels is cancer, and by ages 55-64, cancer becomes the leading cause of death in males by a small margin - about 5%.

Cancer and heart disease remain the leading causes of death for men that make it past age 64, by about 20 percentage points over all other causes, until age 85, when stroke starts to creep ahead.


YOUNG WOMEN - Accidents, murder, and cancer
For very young females, the statistics are similar to males. A similar total number of girls ages 1-4 died in 2001 as the boys: 2208 total girls, and 2899 boys.

A few less girls than boys of ages 1-4 die of accidental causes, (30.3% of total deaths for girls instead of 36% for boys) and a few less are murdered (8% of total deaths instead of 8.2%) and a larger percentage die of birth defects (12.5% of total female deaths instead of 9.7% of total male deaths at that age). But as women grow up the differences become greater.

Girls age 5-9 and 10-14 years die most frequently of accidents, cancer, birth defects, and homicide although influenza and pneumonia and chronic lower respiratory diseases claim significant numbers of girls in those age groups.

For women aged 25-34 years, a total of 12,926 died of any cause in 2001. More than twice as many men died in the same age group: 28,757. Women of this age group died most often of accidents ( 21.3% of total deaths) then cancer (16.5%) and then heart disease (8.4% or 1092 women). Homicide is fourth, at 8.1%. A surprising 1.5% of women (73 women) in this age group died of complications of pregnancy and childbirth - this was ranked the 10th leading cause of death.

YOUNG MEN - accidents and suicide

Men aged 25-34 years died most often of accidents: 31% of total deaths or 9092 men in 2001. The second leading cause of death was suicide, at 14.6% or 4,199 men. Homicide was a close third, at 14.5% or 4157 men. Heart disease and cancer are next, at 7.2% and 6.5% respectively.

span class="style2">For women aged 35-44 years, cancer takes over first place (27.7% or 9272 women) although the accident rate remains quite high in that age group and accidents are the second leading cause of death at 12.9% or 4,333 women in 2001. Heart disease starts to creep up in women of 35-44 years as the third leading cause of death 11.9% or 3980 women) . Fourth and fifth are HIV and suicide - at 4.5% and 4.3%. Cerebrovascular diseases follow at 3.7% and homicide comes in as the seventh leading cause of death at 3.4%. Chronic liver disease - presumably from hepatitis and cirrhosis - is next at 3.4%, or 1130 women in 2001 - the first age group in women when it is among the top 10 causes of death. In men chronic liver disease shows up in the top 10 of the 25-34 age group as the 9th leading cause of death (.9% or 259 deaths). In both men and women, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis continues to rise in the rankings with each age group from 25-34 in men, 35-44 in women, until age 65 when it starts to be edged out by other problems, like nephritis and influenza/pneumonia.

THE BIG PICTURE - across all age groups
Over ALL age groups, the top ten leading causes of death in American females in 2001 were:
1. Heart disease (29.3%)
2. Cancer (21.6%)
3. Cerebrovascular diseases (8.1%)
4. Chronic lower respiratory diseases (5.1%)
5. Diabetes (3.1%)
6. Alzheimer's disease (3.1%)
7. Influenza and pneumonia (2.8%)
8. Kidney disease (1.7%)
9.Septicemia (1.5%)
10.All other causes (20.8%)

Over ALL age groups the top ten leading causes of death in American males in 2001 were:

1.Diseases of heart (28.7%)
2. Malignant neoplasms (24.3%)
3. Accidents (5.6%)
4. Cerebrovascular diseases (5.3%)
5. Chronic lower respiratory diseases (5.0%)
6. Diabetes mellitus (2.8%)
7. Influenza and pneumonia (2.3%)
8. Suicide (2.1%)
9. Kidney disease (1.6%)
10. Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis 1.5
All other causes (20.9%)

Leading causes of death for 2001

Other vital statistics reports

Play the longevity game

"Prophets of Doom" an article by Jon Casimir in the Sydney Morning Herald

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