Live Longer, Avoid Accidents

Mortality rates in America show high rates of car accidents and drug overdoses

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) The top causes of death in the US for people under 50 are not from disease. Extra caution while driving, saying no to drugs and leading a healthy lifestyle could go a long way to keep a person alive.

A recent study compared the rates of death in American men and women under 50 years of age compared to those of 16 other high-income countries.

Results showed higher rates of car accidents and drug overdoses in America. Further concerns about unhealthy diet, smoking and lack of exercise were also noted.

"Use caution and pay attention when driving."

Jessica Ho, MSc, doctoral candidate in demography and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, wrote the report on why life expectancy for people in the US has been low compared to other high-income countries.

“Average life expectancy at birth in the United States is among the lowest of all high-income countries,” said Ho.

“In 2007, American males’ life expectancy at birth was 75.6 years—the lowest among a set of seventeen high-income countries and 3.7 years less than the world leader, Switzerland. American females had the second-lowest life expectancy at birth at 80.8 years—5.2 years less than the world leader, Japan,” Ho continued.

For the study, the researcher looked at death rates between 2006 and 2008 in the Human Mortality Database. She compared death rates in the US to 16 other countries: Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Finland, France, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK.

All of these countries have had similar levels of development and similar declines in death rates over the years.

Among people 50 years of age and older, death rates in America were low compared to the other seventeen high-income countries.

The study showed that Americans had higher death rates before 50 years of age. American males under 50 years of age were likely to lose 1.36 years of life compared to an average of 0.77 years for men in the other 16 countries studied. For American women, an average of 0.80 years of life was lost compared to an average of 0.45 for women from the other 16 countries.  

Most deaths before the age of 50 were injury related:

  • 19 percent of deaths were from homicide.
  • 18 percent of male and 16 percent of female deaths were from transportation injuries (car, bus, bike and plane accidents).
  • 16 percent of male and 14 percent of female deaths were from non-transportation injuries (accidental poisoning like drug overdose, accidental falls, drowning or firearm discharge and exposure to fire or smoke).
  • 13 percent of male deaths were from a complication in the womb. 
  • 19 percent of female deaths were during pregnancy or childbirth.
  • 10 percent of male and 20 percent of female deaths were from non-contagious disease excluding cardiovascular disease
  • 8 percent of male and 9 percent of female deaths were from cardiovascular disease.
  • 2 percent of male and 3 percent of female deaths were from contagious disease other than human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
  • 2 percent of both male and female deaths were from HIV.

In 2007 alone, 64 percent of deaths in American males under the age of 50 were from accidental poisoning and 91 percent of those were from drug overdoses.

For American women, accidental injury, non-contagious disease and complications in childbirth were the top causes of death. All three of those categories, plus 7 percent of deaths from homicide, make up 85 percent of American female deaths under the age of 50. Nearly a third of female deaths in America were from cardiovascular disease.

Car accident and drug overdose deaths were responsible for the greatest differences between deaths in America compared to the other 16 countries.

According to Ho, “Americans reach middle age sicker than their counterparts in other high-income countries.”

She noted early disease risk factors were influenced by smoking, sedentary lifestyle and poor diet, which increase the risk for obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

This study was published in March in Health Affairs.

Jessica Ho received the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. No conflicts of interest were declared.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
March 18, 2013
Last Updated:
August 16, 2013