Preventable causes of death

The World Health Organization has traditionally classified death according to the primary type of disease or injury. However, causes of death may also be classified in terms of preventable risk factors—such as smoking, unhealthy diet, sexual behavior, and reckless driving—which contribute to a number of different diseases. Such risk factors are usually not recorded directly on death certificates, although they are acknowledged in medical reports.

Avoidable mortality in England and Wales, 2001-2011
In 2011, deaths from potentially avoidable causes accounted for approximately 24% of all deaths registered in England and Wales. The leading cause of avoidable deaths was ischaemic heart disease in males and lung cancer in females.


It is estimated that of the roughly 150,000 people who die each day across the globe, about two thirds—100,000 per day—die of age-related causes because they have aged.[1] In industrialized nations the proportion is much higher, reaching 90 percent.[1] Thus, albeit indirectly, biological aging (senescence) is by far the leading cause of death. Whether senescence as a biological process itself can be slowed down, halted, or even reversed is a subject of current scientific speculation and research.[2]

2001 figures

Leading causes of preventable death worldwide as of the year 2001, according to researchers working with the Disease Control Priorities Network (DCPN)[3] and the World Health Organization (WHO).[4] (The WHO's 2008 statistics show very similar trends.)

Cause Number of deaths resulting (millions per year)
Hypertension 7.8
Smoking tobacco 5.4
Malnutrition 3.8
Sexually transmitted diseases 3.0
Poor diet 2.8
Overweight and obesity 2.5
Physical inactivity 2.0
Alcohol 1.9
Indoor air pollution from solid fuels 1.8
Unsafe water and poor sanitation 1.6

In 2001, on average 29,000 children died of preventable causes each day (that is, about 20 deaths per minute). The authors provide the context:

About 56 million people died in 2001. Of these, 10.6 million were children, 99% of whom lived in low-and-middle-income countries. More than half of child deaths in 2001 were attributable to acute respiratory infections, measles, diarrhea, malaria, and HIV/AIDS.[4]

United States

The three most common preventable causes of death in the population of the United States are smoking, high blood pressure, and being overweight.[5]

Preventable causes of death

Leading preventable causes of death in the United States in the year 2000.[6] Note: This data is outdated and has been significantly revised, especially for obesity-related deaths.[5]

Accidental death

Causes of accidental death by age group

Leading causes of accidental death in the United States by age group as of 2002.[7]

Causes of accidental death by age group (percent)

Leading causes of accidental death in the United States as of 2002, as a percentage of deaths in each group.[7]

Annual number of deaths and causes

Cause Number Percent of total Notes
Smoking tobacco 435,000[6] 18.1%
Preventable medical errors in hospitals 210,000 to 448,000[8] 23.1% Estimates vary, significant numbers of preventable deaths also result from errors outside of hospitals.
Being overweight and obesity 111,900[9] 4.6% There was considerable debate about the differences in the numbers of obesity-related diseases. The numbers reported in the referenced article have been found to be the most accurate.[10]
Alcohol 85,000[6] 3.5%
Infectious diseases 75,000[6] 3.1%
Toxic agents including toxins, particulates and radon 55,000[6] 2.3%
Traffic collisions 43,000[6] 1.8%
Preventable colorectal cancers 41,400 1.7% Colorectal cancer (bowel cancer, colon cancer) caused 51,783 deaths in the US in 2011.[11] About 80 percent[12] of colorectal cancers begin as benign growths, commonly called polyps, which can be easily detected and removed during a colonoscopy. Accordingly, the tabulated figure assumes that 80 percent of the fatal cancers could have been prevented.
Firearms deaths 31,940[13] 1.3% Suicide: 19,766; homicide: 11,101; accidents: 852; unknown: 822.
Sexually transmitted infections 20,000[6] 0.8%
Drug abuse 17,000[6] 0.7%

Among children worldwide

Various injuries are the leading cause of death in children 9–17 years of age. In 2008, the top five worldwide unintentional injuries in children are as follows:[14]

Cause Number of deaths resulting
Traffic collision

260,000 per year


175,000 per year


96,000 per year


47,000 per year


45,000 per year

See also


  1. ^ a b Aubrey D.N.J, de Grey (2007). "Life Span Extension Research and Public Debate: Societal Considerations" (PDF). Studies in Ethics, Law, and Technology. 1 (1, Article 5). CiteSeerX doi:10.2202/1941-6008.1011. Retrieved August 7, 2011.
  2. ^ "SENS Foundation".
  3. ^ "DCP3". Archived from the original on 2013-01-28.
  4. ^ a b Lopez AD, Mathers CD, Ezzati M, Jamison DT, Murray CJ (May 2006). "Global and regional burden of disease and risk factors, 2001: systematic analysis of population health data". Lancet. 367 (9524): 1747–57. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(06)68770-9. PMID 16731270.
  5. ^ a b Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (April 27, 2009). "Smoking, high blood pressure and being overweight top three preventable causes of death in the U.S." The President and Fellows of Harvard College. Archived from the original on 2012-11-22. Retrieved 2015-05-15.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Mokdad AH, Marks JS, Stroup DF, Gerberding JL (March 2004). "Actual causes of death in the United States, 2000" (PDF). JAMA. 291 (10): 1238–45. doi:10.1001/jama.291.10.1238. PMID 15010446.
  7. ^ a b National Vital Statistics Report, Vol. 50, No. 15, September 16, 2002 as compiled at "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-02-21. Retrieved 2009-06-21.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  8. ^ James, John T. (2013). "A New, Evidence-based Estimate of Patient Harms Associated with Hospital Care". Journal of Patient Safety. 9 (3): 122–128. doi:10.1097/PTS.0b013e3182948a69. PMID 23860193. Retrieved 2014-02-21.
  9. ^ Flegal, K.M., B.I. Graubard, D.F. Williamson, and M.H. Gail. (2005). "Obesity". Journal of the American Medical Association. 293 (15): 1861–1867. doi:10.1001/jama.293.15.1861. PMID 15840860.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  10. ^ "Controversies in Obesity Mortality: A Tale of Two Studies" (PDF). RTI International. Retrieved 2014-02-21.
  11. ^ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Colorectal Cancer Statistics". Retrieved January 12, 2015.
  12. ^ Carol A. Burke; Laura K. Bianchi. "Colorectal Neoplasia". Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved January 12, 2015.
  13. ^ "Deaths: Preliminary Data for 2011" (PDF). CDC. Retrieved 2014-02-21.
  14. ^ "BBC NEWS | Special Reports | UN raises child accidents alarm". BBC News. December 10, 2008. Retrieved May 8, 2010.
Accidental death

An accidental death is an unnatural death that is caused by an accident such as a slip and fall, traffic collision, or accidental poisoning. Accidental deaths are distinguished from death by natural causes (disease) and from intentional homicides and suicide. An accidental death can still be considered a homicide or suicide if a person was the unintentional cause.

For criminal purposes, intentional homicides are usually classified as murder. Exceptions such as self-defense vary by jurisdiction, and some cases, persons accused of murder have asserted as a defense that the deceased was actually the victim of an accidental death rather than an intentional act. However, a person who is responsible for the accidental death of another through negligence may still be criminally liable for manslaughter, and civilly liable for wrongful death. Accidental death and dismemberment insurance and similar insurance policies pay a benefit in the event of an accidental death, With these policies it must be demonstrated that a given death is in fact an accident, rather than an intentional suicide or homicide (which might also involve insurance fraud).

It has been suggested that "vast majority of accidents are not really accidents of chance but rather accidents of folly, negligence, and blatant human misjudgment". The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that in the US in 2015, there were 146,571 "unintentional injury deaths" that year, the fourth leading cause of death. Of those, 47,478 were from unintentional poisoning, 37,757 were from traffic accidents, and 33,381 were from falls.In some countries, all accidental deaths (or apparently accidental deaths) are investigated by government bodies and sometimes a family will do a private investigation. Inquests in England and Wales, for example, are held into sudden and unexplained deaths, and a fatal accident inquiry is performed for an accidental death in Scotland. A verdict of "accidental death" in such cases is returned when there is no contributory factor from an action or omission of the victim ("death by misadventure") or by another person ("unlawful killing").

Deaths during wartime due to imprecise or incorrect targeting may be euphemistically termed collateral damage or the result of friendly fire.

Cause of death

In law, medicine, and statistics, cause of death is an official determination of conditions resulting in a human's death, which may be recorded on a death certificate. A cause of death is determined by a medical examiner. The cause of death is a specific disease or injury, in contrast to the manner of death which is a small number of categories like "natural", "accident", and "homicide", which have different legal implications.International Classification of Disease (ICD) codes are often used to record manner and cause of death in a systematic way that makes it easy to compile statistics and more feasible to compare events across jurisdictions.

Cause of death (disambiguation)

Cause of death may refer to:

Cause of death, a term typically used on official reports

List of causes of death by rate, a list of causes of death by rate

List of preventable causes of death, a list of preventable causes of death by rate

Cause of Death (novel), a 1996 crime fiction novel by Patricia Cornwell

Cause of Death (album), a 1990 album by Obituary

Cause of Death (game), 2010 visual novel

"The Cause of Death", a song by Immortal Technique from Revolutionary Vol. 2

Dead on arrival

Dead on arrival (DOA), also dead in the field and brought in dead (BID), indicates that a patient was found to be already clinically dead upon the arrival of professional medical assistance, often in the form of first responders such as emergency medical technicians, paramedics, or police.

In some jurisdictions, first responders must consult verbally with a physician before officially pronouncing a patient deceased, but once cardiopulmonary resuscitation is initiated, it must be continued until a physician can pronounce the patient dead.

Death messenger

Death messengers, in former times, were those who were dispatched to spread the news that an inhabitant of their city or village had died. They were to wear unadorned black and go door to door with the message, "You are asked to attend the funeral of the departed __________ at (time, date, and place)." This was all they were allowed to say, and were to move on to the next house immediately after uttering the announcement. This tradition persisted in some areas to as late as the mid-19th century.

Death rattle

Terminal respiratory secretions (or simply terminal secretions), known colloquially as a death rattle, are sounds often produced by someone who is near death as a result of fluids such as saliva and bronchial secretions accumulating in the throat and upper chest. Those who are dying may lose their ability to swallow and may have increased production of bronchial secretions, resulting in such an accumulation. Usually, two or three days earlier, the symptoms of approaching death can be observed as saliva accumulates in the throat, making it very difficult to take even a spoonful of water. Related symptoms can include shortness of breath and rapid chest movement. While death rattle is a strong indication that someone is near death, it can also be produced by other problems that cause interference with the swallowing reflex, such as brain injuries.It is sometimes misinterpreted as the sound of the person choking to death, or alternatively, that they are gargling.

Dignified death

Dignified death is a somewhat elusive concept often related to suicide. One factor that has been cited as a core component of dignified death is maintaining a sense of control. Another view is that a truly dignified death is an extension of a dignified life. There is some concern that assisted suicide does not guarantee a dignified death, since some patients may experience complications such as nausea and vomiting. There is some concern that age discrimination denies the elderly a dignified death.


In medicine, dysthanasia means "bad death" and is considered a common fault of modern medicine.Dysthanasia occurs when a person who is dying has their biological life extended through technological means without regard to the person's quality of life. Technologies such as an implantable cardioverter defibrillator, artificial ventilation, ventricular assist devices, and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation can extend the dying process.

Dysthanasia is a term generally used when a person is seen to be kept alive artificially in a condition where, otherwise, they cannot survive; sometimes for some sort of ulterior motive. The term was used frequently in the investigation into the death of Formula One driver Ayrton Senna in 1994.

Lazarus sign

The Lazarus sign or Lazarus reflex is a reflex movement in brain-dead or brainstem failure patients, which causes them to briefly raise their arms and drop them crossed on their chests (in a position similar to some Egyptian mummies). The phenomenon is named after the Biblical figure Lazarus of Bethany, whom Jesus raised from the dead in the Gospel of John.

List of causes of death by rate

The following is a list of the causes of human deaths worldwide for the year 2002, arranged by their associated mortality rates. There were 57,029,000 deaths tabulated for that year. Some causes listed include deaths also included in more specific subordinate causes (as indicated by the "Group" column), and some causes are omitted, so the percentages do not sum to 100. According to the World Health Organization, about 58 million people died in 2005, using the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD). According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, 52.77 million people died in 2010.

Medical Tactical Training Program

The Medical Tactical Certificate Training Program also known as Med Tac, is a global bystander care training program that focuses on life saving actions that can be performed by non-medical bystanders for the 8 leading preventable causes of death to children, youth, and adults. In urban areas in the United States, professional first responders arrive at the scene of an emergency after approximately 10 minutes, yet the evidence supported that immediate action within three minutes has an enormous impact on survival and permanent harm. Spawned and accelerated after the dramatic increase in active shooter and terrorism events, it integrates the American Heart Association Heartsaver CPR/AED Training Program or the American Red Cross equivalent training and the Stop the Bleed Program sponsored by the United States Department of Homeland Security and American College of Surgeons.


Megadeath (or megacorpse) is one million human deaths, usually caused by a nuclear explosion. The term was used by scientists and thinkers who strategized likely outcomes of all-out nuclear warfare.


A necronym (from the Greek words νεκρός, nekros, "dead" and ὄνομα ónoma, "name") is a reference to, or name of, a person who has died. Many cultures have taboos and traditions associated with referring to such a person. These vary from the extreme of never again speaking the person's real name, often using some circumlocution instead, to the opposite extreme of commemorating it incessantly by naming other things or people after the deceased.

For instance, in some cultures it is common for a newborn child to receive the name (a necronym) of a relative who has recently died, while in others to reuse such a name would be considered extremely inappropriate or even forbidden. While this varies from culture to culture, the use of necronyms is quite common.

Obesity in the United Kingdom

Obesity in the United Kingdom is a significant contemporary health concern, with authorities stating that it is one of the leading preventable causes of death. In February 2016, former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt described rising rates of childhood obesity as a "national emergency".Data published as a part of the World Health Organisation (WHO) study in 2018 indicated that 28.1% of adults in the United Kingdom were recognised as clinically obese with a Body Mass Index (BMI) greater than 30. In 2014 84% of adults in England were classified as overweight or obese (a body mass index of 25 or above), compared to 63% 20 years earlier. More than one-thirds of men and over 8 in 10 women are overweight or obese.Experts have predicted that by the year 2020 91% of the United Kingdom population could be overweight or obese. Rising levels of obesity are a major challenge to public health. There are expected to be 11 million more obese adults in the UK by 2030, accruing up to 668,000 additional cases of diabetes mellitus, 461,000 cases of heart disease and stroke, 130,000 cases of cancer, with associated medical costs set to increase by £1.9–2.0B per year by 2030. Adult obesity rates have almost quadrupled in the last 25 years.For children, data from the Health Survey for England (HSE) conducted in 2014 and examining patterns of overweight and obesity among children aged 2–15, showed that 17% of children were obese and an additional 14% of children were overweight.Combing three years of data (2012, 2013 and 2014) Public Health England identified Barnsley, South Yorkshire as the local authority with the highest incidence of adult obesity (BMI greater than 30) with 35.1%. Data from the same study revealed that Doncaster, South Yorkshire was the local authority with the highest overall excess weight with 74.8% of adults (16 years and over) with a BMI greater than 25. In previous Public Health England studies based on 2012 data, Tamworth in Staffordshire had been identified as the fattest town in England with a 30.7% obesity rate.

Outline of death

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to death:

Death – termination of all biological functions that sustain a living organism.

Pallor mortis

Pallor mortis (Latin: pallor "paleness", mortis "of death"), the first stage of death, is an after-death paleness that occurs in those with light/white skin.

Post-mortem interval

Post-mortem interval (PMI) is the time that has elapsed since a person has died. If the time in question is not known, a number of medical/scientific techniques are used to determine it. This also can refer to the stage of decomposition of the body.

Preventable years of life lost

Preventable years of life lost (PrYLL) is an epidemiological measure. It is an estimate of the average years a person would have lived if s/he had not died prematurely due to a preventable cause of death.

PrYLL is closely related to potential years of life lost (PYLL) and like PYLL, it gives more weight than mortality rates to deaths that occur among younger people. Unlike PYLL, PrYLL excludes causes of death that aren’t deemed to be preventable.

Premature deaths are those that could be avoided through public health interventions such as getting people to take more exercise or stop smoking, or in tackling the wider social determinants of health.

Causes of death can be classified using the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) codes. The United Kingdom’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) has published lists of ICD codes that are deemed to be avoidable, amenable and preventable. Within this publication, the ONS proposes the following definition for preventable causes of death: “A death is preventable if, in the light of current understanding of the determinants of health, all or most deaths from that cause (subject to age limits if appropriate) could be avoided by public health interventions in the broadest sense”.

Sedentary lifestyle

A sedentary lifestyle is a type of lifestyle involving little or no physical activity. A person living a sedentary lifestyle is often sitting or lying down while engaged in an activity like reading, socializing, watching television, playing video games, or using a mobile phone/computer for much of the day. A sedentary lifestyle can potentially contribute to ill health and many preventable causes of death.Screen time is a modern term for the amount of time a person spends looking at a screen such as a television, computer monitor, or mobile device. Excessive screen time is linked to negative health consequences.

In medicine
After death

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