A lot of people don’t like to think too much about death, yet it is one of the few events that is guaranteed to happen to all of us.
So, a lot of people are interested and fascinated to find out about other people’s deaths. Learning about illnesses, accidents, mishaps, and events that kill people can be a helpful way to reassess our own life and help you to decide whether to make any improvements to your lifestyle to increase your chance of longevity.
Death certificates contain information about the cause of someone’s death, their age, and gender. That means that looking at death certificates and coroners’ verdicts can be helpful sources of information on why people die.
Here’s some of the main causes of death around the world.
Top Killers in America
If someone asked you to identify what kills most Americans today, what would you say?
It is a difficult question that many people would answer incorrectly. The fatal events that make the headlines, such as plane crashes, as well as terrorist attacks and shootings, often seem like large-scale killers. But shockingly, they are overshadowed by killers rarely mentioned in the news, such as heart disease and respiratory problems.
We can get a detailed breakdown of causes of death because death certification is so widespread. That helps to build an instructive profile of why people die, compared to nations where there is less thorough documentation. However, death certificates can also pose problems as a source of information. Often a death may have multiple contributory causes, for example, and this may not be fully captured.
Bearing that in mind, the top three causes of death in the United States are listed as heart disease, cancer, and chronic lower respiratory disease, in that order. Other causes in the top 10 are accidents, strokes, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, flu, and pneumonia. A detailed breakdown and explanation based on government data is freely available online at this Website.
Causes of Death in America Compared to Other Countries
American causes of death vary from other countries, which is both good news and bad news.
Globally, for example, infectious and parasitic diseases are the second leading cause of death after cardiovascular disease, but they barely even break the top 10 in the United States. HIV and AIDS are a leading cause of death in some developing countries, but nowhere near the top 10 in the United States.
But other countries outshine the United States in many ways. For example, the obesity epidemic has started to show through in mortality figures. Cardiovascular disease and diabetes are an indicator of these statistics. In diet-conscious Japan, by contrast, cancer is a bigger killer than cardiovascular disease. In Japan, Alzheimer’s is now the leading cause of death.
Causes of Death Changing Over Time
American causes of death are different than foreign countries – but also to America itself a generation of two ago.
The New England Journal of Medicine compiled this chart showing how causes of death in the United States have changed over the past century. The first thing that is striking is that overall, although the causes of deaths have changed significantly, the death rate has fallen dramatically. Until a recent blip, the United States had seen steadily increasing life expectancy for two centuries.
Cancer kills far more people both in percentage and absolute terms than it did a century ago. But that might not be as bad a thing as it sounds. Previously, many people died from other causes at a young age before they had a chance to develop cancer. Heart disease has also increased, but not by the same significance as cancer. Flu, accidents, and most other listed causes of death are all majorly down.
Do Causes of Death Vary by Gender or Ethnicity?
Causes of death are often aggregated, but you may wonder what happens if they are examined by gender, ethnicity, or other variables.
There are differences, and these can be well captured by examining death certificates, which often capture such statistical biographical details. However, breaking down causes of death by groupings is controversial in some areas because it is perceived as a possible way of focusing resources unfairly.
In fact, it could also serve the opposite end of helping groups with targeted strategies in community medicine. For example, across all ethnicities in the United States, the top two causes of male death are cancer and heart disease, although their incidence varies. For most ethnicities, the third leading cause is unintentional injuries, but for Asians and Pacific Islanders it is strokes. Homicide does not make it to the top 10 for white men, but it is seventh in the Hispanic community and fifth in the black community.
Similarly, gender matters. Lung cancers are the second biggest killer of American men, but rank fourth as a cause of death amongst American women.
Death certificates give us valuable data that allows us to understand causes of death. This can help us all choose how to improve our life expectancy through lifestyle and health choices. Although, there are some things you just cannot change, like your ethnicity. How did most of your relatives die? Do they correspond to the stats provided?