According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as 4 in 10 deaths from the five leading causes are preventable.
Each year, says a new CDC report, nearly 900,000 Americans die prematurely from heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, stroke and unintentional injuries. Together, these causes represented more than 6 in 10 deaths in 2010. And many are considered “premature” because they were the result of modifiable risks.
The report’s authors examined data about premature deaths (before the age of 80) from each cause and from each state, from 2008 to 2010. Although the rates vary significantly by location, the researchers were able to calculate the number of deaths from each cause that would have been prevented if all states had the same death rate as those with the lowest.
Southeastern states had the highest number of preventable deaths for each of the five causes.
To see the complete map of preventable deaths, link here.
The results suggest that, per the the lowest death rate observed for each cause, it would be possible to prevent:
- 34% of premature deaths from heart diseases (about 92,000);
- 21% of premature cancer deaths (about 84,500);
- 39% of premature deaths from chronic lower respiratory diseases (about 9,000);
- 33% of premature stroke deaths (about 17,000);
- 39% of premature deaths from unintentional injuries (about 37,000).
You can’t just add up all the preventable deaths from different reasons to get an overall total, because preventing some kinds of premature death might prompt death from a different cause. For example, somebody who prevents death from heart disease still might die too early from, say, falling down the stairs.
Here’s how to prolong life, or at least prevent premature death from:
Heart disease: don’t smoke tobacco, do control high blood pressure and high cholesterol, do address type 2 diabetes, which includes eating healthfully, not being overweight and being physically active;
Cancer: don’t smoke tobacco, don’t be overweight, do eat healthfully and be physically active, and avoid sun exposure, certain hormones, too much alcohol, some viruses and bacteria, ionizing radiation (X-rays, ultraviolet light, etc.) and certain chemicals and other substances (of course, some of these measures are easier to embrace than others, but an awareness of all them is key);
Chronic respiratory disease: avoid tobacco smoke, indoor and outdoor air pollutants, allergens and exposure to occupational agents (asbestos, coal dust, etc);
Stroke: control high blood pressure and high cholesterol and take measures to avoid heart disease, as outlined above;
Unintentional injury: use seatbelts and motorcycle helmets, avoid unsafe consumer products, be aware of occupational hazards (construction, transportation, etc.) and unsafe home and community environments, such as slippery rugs and broken sidewalk pavement.
Obviously, reducing many risks is a matter of personal behavior. It’s also, as the report notes, about disparities in social, demographic, environmental and geographic communities. The latter is a key reason why there’s so much difference among the states in death rates for the leading causes of death. Lowering them requires both personal and community commitment.