Leading Causes of Death in the United States

I spend a lot of time reading and doing research into health related topics.  I do this for a few reasons.  First and foremost, I actually enjoy reading about the different health related topics, and I also believe that having information about certain things is beneficial since I never know what kind of question I am going to get asked.  There is no shortage of information out there that talks about health and fitness.  Some of the information however, is less about information and more about “fluff” that is meant to either scare people or provides misinformation.  Recently I ran across a set of stats that I felt would be important to share.  As a “numbers” guy, I tend to gravitate towards statistics and then attempt to figure out why or how we either a) got to this point and b) what can we do to to reduce or prevent.

The data for 2009 and the leading causes of death in the United States is now finalized (2010 is right around the corner and preliminarily there is no significant change).  What I find interesting is that of the top 10 leading causes of death for 2009 there are 4 that are either directly or indirectly linked to our health and fitness.  Here they are in order and with the numbers next to them and those that I have starred have a relationship with nutrition and health.

** #1 – Heart Desease (599,413)

** #2 – Cancer (567,628)

#3 – Chronic lower respiratory diseases (137,353)

** #4 – Stroke (128,842)

#5 – Accidents [unintentional injuries] (118,021)

#6 – Alzheimer’s disease (79,003)

** #7 – Diabetes (68,705)

#8 – Influenza and Pneumonia (53,692)

#9 – Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis (48,935)

#10 – Intentional self-harm [suicide] (36,909)

These causes of death are stated as if a single condition such as heart disease caused death, but most chronic diseases arise from multiple factors over many years.  A person who died of heart disease may have been overweight, had high blood pressure, been a cigarette smoker, and spent years eating a diet high in saturated fat and getting too little exercise.

Of course, not all people who die of heart disease fit this description, nor do all people with these characteristics die of heart disease.  People who are overweight might die from complications of diabetes instead, or those who smoke might die of cancer.  They might even die from something totally unrelated to any of these factors, such as an automobile accident.  Still, statistical studies have shown that certain conditions and behaviors are linked to certain diseases.

Lets talk about the different risk factors associated with some of these chronic diseases.  Factors that increase or reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases are identified by analyzing statistical data.  A strong association between a risk factor and a disease means that when the factor is present, the likelihood of developing the disease increases.  Using that same line of thought, a lack of risk factors does not guarantee freedom from a given disease.  On the average, though, the more risk factors in a person’s like, the greater that persons chances of developing the disease.  Conversely, the fewer risk factors in a person’s life, the better the chances for good health.

Risk factors tend to persist, especially those that come early in life.  Without intervention, a young adult with high blood pressure will most likely continue to have high blood pressure as an older adult.

Risk factors “clustering” together.  Risk factors do tend to cluster.  For example, a person who is obese may be physically inactive, have high blood pressure, and have high blood cholesterol – all risk factors associated with heart disease.  Intervention that focuses on one risk factor often benefits the others as well.  Physical activity can help reduce weight.  Then both physical activity and weigh loss will help to lower blood pressure and cholesterol.

Risk factors put into perspective.  The most prominent factor contributing to death in the United States is tobacco use, followed by diet and activity patterns, and alcohol use.  What is interesting is that these top 3 risk factors can ALL BE CHANGED!!!!  A person can make the change to quit smoking, eat healthier and exercise more.  There are risk factors however that cannot be changed.  Genetics, gender, age…all play roles as well and we are “stuck” with those.  We cannot change the things we inherited from our parents but we can change the risk factors that are considered changeable.




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