Becoming aware of leading causes of death can be a good way to make changes today that could contribute to lowering mortality rates in the future.
In this guide, we list the leading causes of death worldwide, and in specific countries.
Summary – Leading Causes Of Death
Diseases that affect the heart, along with cancer are some of the most common leading causes of death worldwide
Having said that, causes of death can vary between countries, and especially between developed and developing countries (e.g. non communicable vs infectious diseases)
In countries with access to adequate sanitation, healthcare and nutrition, the risk of falling victim to a leading cause of death can be significantly lowered, and preventative measures can be taken. For example, good nutrition, exercise, keeping a healthy weight, not smoking, drinking in moderation, and a healthy lifestyle might help lower the risk of leading causes of death like heart diseases. Deaths in developed countries tend to be largely preventable or treatable, and tend to be chronic, or slow to progress/develop causes
Some countries have non preventable factors at play, like lack of access to proper resources and healthcare (for prevention and treatment). But, the good news is that access to basic healthcare is increasing worldwide, and other key measurements like child mortality rates are dropping (or trending in the right direction)
In the US specifically, heart disease has been trending down, whilst cancers have been trending up over the last few decades.
Leading causes of death can change over time as lifestyles, technology, and other social and economic variables change. Pandemics and related causes can also skew data in a given year or multi year period
A few other notes worth mentioning are:
Leading causes of death can be expressed in a number of different ways – total deaths, deaths as a % of total deaths, and deaths per 100,000 people are a few main examples
Leading causes of death can differ by age group
Leading causes of death can differ by gender
Leading causes of death can differ by race
Leading causes of death can differ by country or region
Leading causes of deaths can also be calculated by occupation in terms of deaths per 100,000 people in a profession or industry
Leading Causes Of Death In The World
According to healthline.com:
In 2015, of the estimated 56.4 million people that died worldwide, 68% were due to slowly progressing diseases
In 2015, the top 4 causes of death were …
Ischemic heart disease, or coronary artery disease (8.8 million, 15.5% of deaths)
Stroke (6.2 million, 11.1% of deaths)
Lower respiratory infections (3.2 million, 5.7% of deaths)
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (3.1 million, 5.6% of deaths)
Smoking is a common contributing factor to several of the leading causes of death worldwide
Due to a range of factors, there’s some clear trends of increasing and decreasing death rates of some of the leading causes of death between developed, and developing countries.
Many of the diseases on the list are preventable and treatable
According to bbc.com:
In 2016 …
Cardio vascular diseases (which affects the heart and arteries) are responsible for 32.3% of deaths, Cancers 16.3%, and there is a big drop off from there to respiratory diseases at 6.5%, diabetes at 5.8%, and other causes of death
More than 70% of people die from non-communicable, chronic diseases. These are not passed from person to person and typically progress slowly
Worldwide, we can see the child mortality rate has severely dropped since 1950
According to ourworldindata:
In 2017 …
Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death globally. The second biggest cause are cancers.
Causes of death vary significantly between countries: non-communicable diseases dominate in rich countries, whereas infectious diseases remain high at lower incomes.
Fewer people die at a young age. Almost half of all people who die are 70 years and older.
Leading risk factors for premature death globally include high blood pressure, smoking, obesity, high blood sugar and environmental risk factors including air pollution.
[There tends to be a big difference in what is actually causing people to die, and what types of deaths receive news and media coverage]
Leading Causes Of Death In The United States
According to healthline.com:
Heart disease (635,260) and Cancer (598,038) are responsible for 46 percent of deaths in the US, and are the two most common causes of death
Accidents come in at third (161,374), and Chronic lower respiratory disease fourth (154,596)
The top 12 causes of death in the United States account for more than 75 percent of all deaths
healthline.com has a good resource that lists the top 12 causes of death, number of deaths per year, who the condition/disease is most common among, what causes the condition/disease, and tips for prevention
Smoking/the use of tobacco, and being overweight/obese are a few of the common causes to the leading causes of death
Heart disease related deaths have been falling over the last few decades whilst cancer related deaths have been rising
[Data is from the CDC 2017 report]
According to usafacts.org, as of June 27 2020, COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death (after heart disease and cancer).
This wikipedia.org resource also has graphs for the leading causes of death in the United States by age group, and also shows the death rate per 100,000 workers by occupation. Cell tower construction, fishing, logging and aircraft pilots and flight engineers all rate amongst the highest occupational death rates.
Leading Causes Of Death In Europe
According to ec.europa.eu:
In 2017, in the EU-27 group of countries …
The leading causes of death per 100,000 inhabitants were 1) Ischaemic heart diseases, 2) Cerebrovascular diseases, and 3) Malignant neoplasm of the trachea, bronchus and lung
Leading causes of death were related to high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes and smoking.
Leading Causes Of Death In Australia
According to aihw.gov.au:
In 2018 …
Coronary heart disease is the leading underlying cause of death in Australia, followed by dementia including Alzheimer disease. Cerebrovascular disease (which includes stroke), lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) make up the top 5 leading underlying causes of death in Australia in 2018, for males and females of all ages combined
Read more about the leading causes of death in Australia in this resource
What Can Be Learnt From Looking At The Leading Causes Of Death
From looking at leading causes of death, we can:
Gain awareness of the leading causes of death
Find out if there are growing epidemics in healthcare i.e. if one or several leading causes are becoming significant for any reason
Find out what causes of death are increasing in frequency and which ones are trending down
Determine what people (and also what regions and countries) might be at risk of certain leading causes of death. We can also see leading causes of death by age group, by gender, and also death rates per capita by occupation
Gain awareness of the things that are risk factors and contributing factors to a leading cause of death
Identify preventable, partially preventable, and non preventable contributing factors to leading causes of death (and example of a non preventable factor might be lack of access to preventative or quality healthcare)
Spread awareness about prevention measures and things that can lower risk for a leading cause of death Generally, good nutrition and exercise, avoiding smoking and drinking, and proper hygiene can lower the risk of several leading causes of death in developed countries. Better sanitation, hygiene, nutrition, vaccination and basic healthcare can lower risk in developing countries
4. Hannah Ritchie (2018) – “Causes of Death”. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: ‘https://ourworldindata.org/causes-of-death’ [Online Resource]