Fatal five: 2 in 3 Americans die from these 5 causes

May 15, 2014—More than 100,000 Americans die prematurely every year, losing their lives to diseases and injuries that could have been prevented, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“As a doctor, it’s heartbreaking when we lose a single patient because of a preventable condition, but as director of the nation’s prevention agency, it’s painful almost beyond words to know that we’re losing well over 100,000 people every year in this country from diseases and injuries that could have been easily prevented,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH.

The report found that nearly 2 of every 3 deaths in the U.S. are from five causes:

  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Chronic lower respiratory diseases (such as emphysema)
  • Stroke
  • Unintentional injuries

In 2010, these “fatal five” accounted for 63 percent of deaths across the country, with wide variation in rates across the 50 states.

But the good news is that people can change many of the factors that put them at increased risk of death from these causes, Dr. Frieden said.

About the study

For their analysis, researchers used population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau and information about deaths from the National Vital Statistics System for the years 2008 through 2010.

To calculate potential preventable deaths, the researchers looked only at deaths that occurred in people younger than 80. (The average life expectancy in the U.S. was about 79 in 2010.)

The three states with the lowest death rates for each specific cause of death were selected as benchmarks. The researchers then calculated the number of deaths from each cause that potentially would have been prevented annually if all states had the same death rates as the states with the lowest rates.

The findings suggest that:

  • 34 percent of premature deaths from heart disease could have been prevented, prolonging the lives of about 92,000 people.
  • 21 percent of premature deaths from cancer could have been prevented, prolonging the lives of about 84,500 people.
  • 39 percent of premature deaths from chronic lower respiratory diseases could have been prevented, prolonging the lives of about 29,000 people.
  • 33 percent of premature deaths from stroke could have been prevented, prolonging the lives of about 17,000 people.
  • 39 percent of premature deaths from unintentional injuries could have been prevented, prolonging the lives of about 37,000 people.

What could have helped all these people live longer? Not smoking is at the top of lifesaving lifestyle changes. Tobacco is a significant risk factor for all but unintentional injury.

Other possibly lifesaving behaviors include controlling high blood pressure; lowering cholesterol levels; increasing physical activity; maintaining a healthy weight; preventing type 2 diabetes; and avoiding risky actions like tanning, substance abuse, riding a motorcycle without wearing a helmet and not buckling seat belts.

Also modifiable: states’ health policies and how much governments invest in prevention efforts like tobacco control. It’s also important to ensure that most people have easy access to primary (versus emergency) health care, the researchers said.

The take-home message
A good number of deaths in the U.S. are not random but instead can be prevented with proper health care and healthy choices. That includes staying current on screening tests and immunizations and working with your doctor to reduce your risk factors for various diseases.

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