What Killed People In 2010

For every year, the CDC compiles a list of the 15 leading causes of death. They just released their report (PDF) for the causes of death in 2010 — no word on why it took them a whole year to crunch some numbers. All in all, almost 2.5 million Americans died that year. In the report, the causes of death are given in medicalese (as defined by the ICD-10) so the below has the layman’s terms in parentheses:

  1. Diseases of heart (a.k.a. heart disease) — 595,444 deaths
  2. Malignant Neoplasms (a.k.a. cancer) — 573,855 deaths
  3. Chronic Lower Respiratory Diseases (COPD, generally caused by smoking) — 137,789 deaths
  4. Cerebrovascular Diseases (these cause strokes) — 129,180 deaths
  5. Accidents (unintentional injuries) — 118,043 deaths
  6. Alzheimer’s disease — 83,308 deaths
  7. Diabetes mellitus (a.k.a. simply diabetes, includes both type 1 and 2) — 68,905 deaths
  8. Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome and nephrosis (kidney diseases) — 50,472 deaths
  9. Influenza (a.k.a the flu) and pneumonia — 50,003 deaths
  10. Intentional self-farm (suicide) — 37,793 deaths
  11. Septicemia (infection in the blood) — 34,843 deaths
  12. Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis — 31,802 deaths
  13. Essential hypertension and hypertensive renal disease (high blood pressure) — 26,577 deaths
  14. Parkinson’s disease — 21,963 deaths
  15. Pneumonitis due to solids and liquids (lung inflammation from things that don’t belong in the lungs being there: water, food, smoke, animal dander, etc) — 17,001 deaths
  16. All other causes — 488,954 deaths


Accidents cause about 5% of deaths


The interesting this to note is that contrary to what police dramas would have you believe, for the first time in the list’s 45 year existence, murder has not made the top 15. It was usually at the bottom of the list anyway, but this year it dropped off completely. As for what actually killed people, heart disease and cancer are responsible for about half of deaths. After that, the numbers drop off pretty steeply, by about 75% — from almost 600,000 to almost 150,000.

The causes of the next close group of killers are smoking (via COPD), being old, and being careless. The latter two may be related (along with being young), and it’s worth mentioning that besides COPD, smoking can also kill through lung cancer, which is covered in the first group. All of these put together, however, don’t even get close to adding up to the deaths caused by heart disease. To put the its death toll in perspective, it would take about two hundred 9/11s to kill as many people as heart disease does every year. Maybe some of the billions spent on terrorism prevention would be more effective in preventative healthcare.


Michael J. Fox has Parkinson's. Also, Back To The Future, Part 2 supposedly took place in 2015, but we still have no flying cars.


But let’s say you wanted to avoid dying: what can this list teach us? Right off the bat, not being fat, lazy, a smoker, heavy drinker or unhealthy eater will get rid of about half the list — including a lot of cancers. Being careful — to not get infected, to not inhale your food, to not fall off the roof — takes care of almost everything else. If you don’t kill yourself, that’s another one. So if you’re level-headed and generally live a healthy lifestyle, what’s left is the stuff you can’t do anything about: being old, Parkinson’s and some cancers — all of which have no known cause.

From CDC (PDF), via NPR


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