According to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20-40% of premature deaths from the five leading causes of death in the US are avoidable.
Each year, heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke and unintentional injuries kill 900,000 Americans prematurely. These five causes accounted for 63% of all deaths in the US in 2010.
The new report, published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) weekly journal, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, analyzed premature deaths – defined as deaths before the age of 80 – from these five causes in each state between 2008 and 2010.
The report calculates that it would have been possible to prevent:
- 34% of premature deaths from heart diseases, prolonging about 92,000 lives
- 21% of premature cancer deaths, prolonging about 84,500 lives
- 39% of premature deaths from chronic lower respiratory diseases, prolonging about 29,000 lives
- 33% of premature stroke deaths, prolonging about 17,000 lives
- 39% of premature deaths from unintentional injuries, prolonging about 37,000 lives.
The authors of the report did not add together the number of preventable deaths from each cause. To illustrate why, the authors give the example of a person who avoids early death from heart disease, but who may still die prematurely from another preventable cause, such as an unintentional injury.
The reason the researchers believe so many of these deaths are preventable is because modifiable risk factors are largely responsible for each of the leading causes of death.
These modifiable risk factors include:
- Tobacco use (for heart disease, cancer risk, chronic respiratory disease and stroke)
- High blood pressure, high cholesterol, being overweight, lack of physical activity and type 2 diabetes (for heart disease and stroke)
- Poor diet (for heart disease and cancer)
- Sun exposure, some viruses and bacteria, ionizing radiation, certain chemicals and certain hormones (for cancer)
- Alcohol use (for cancer, stroke and unintentional injury)
- Second-hand smoke exposure and other indoor pollutants, outdoor air pollutants, allergens and exposure to occupational agents (for chronic respiratory disease)
- Previous stroke (for stroke)
- Lack of seatbelt use, lack of motorcycle helmet use, unsafe consumer products, drug use, exposure to occupational hazards and unsafe home and community environments (for unintentional injury).
Some of these risks, the authors note, are due to disparities in social, demographic, environmental, economic and geographic attributes of people’s living and working environments. The study states that if the Healthy People 2020 recommendations are followed to eliminate health disparities, then the lowest possible death rates for the leading causes of death could be achieved.
However, many risk factors for premature death – such as tobacco and alcohol use and poor diet – can be avoided by individuals modifying personal behaviors.
The study also found that there were significant variations from state to state in the rates of death from each cause. For example, the study found that the highest number of preventable deaths for each of the five causes was in southeastern states.
The authors believe that this report can help states set goals for preventing premature death from the five main causes of death in the US. “Achieving these goals could prolong the lives of tens of thousands of Americans,” says Dr. Harold W. Jaffe, the study’s senior author and CDC’s associate director for science.
In 2013, Medical News Today reported on a study that found risk of premature death is increased by “a western-style diet” high in fried and sweet foods.