Sunday, November 8, 2015

Mortality Trends in the United States, 1969-2013

For all the money spent on health care research, are we making any progress towards reducing mortality from some of the major health problems? Where might more research be needed?

To find out, researchers affiliated with the American Cancer Society analyzed trends in age-standardized mortality rates from 1969 through 2013 for six major killers; heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), unintentional injuries, and diabetes mellitus. ("Age-standardized" mortality rates take into account the changing age structure of a population over time.)

The data show that we are indeed making progress overall. From 1969 to 2013 the overall age-standardized death rate per 100,000 fell from 1278.8 to 729.8; a decline of 43%. For specific conditions, the mortality rate from stroke declined 77%; from heart disease 68%; from unintentional injuries 40%; from cancer 18%; and from diabetes mellitus 16%. However, the change in mortality rate from COPD was a real shock; it increased over 100% over the same time period.

The 100% increase in COPD is troubling, but this research doesn't provide any answers regarding the reason. One possibility is that we may be seeing the delayed consequences of the much higher popularity of smoking in past decades. But that's a question that would need to be examined by further research.

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