12:46 pm
27 October 2016

The #1 reason people die young, in each country

You’re probably aware that heart disease and cancer are far and away the leading causes of death in America. But globally the picture is more complicated:

lost years of life

(Vox / Anand Katakam and Joss Fong)

The above map shows the leading cause of lost years of life by country (click to see a larger version). The data comes from the Global Burden of Disease study, whose 2013 installment was released just a few weeks ago.

It’s worth stressing that “cause of lost years of life” and “cause of death” aren’t identical. For example, deaths from preterm births may cause more lost years of life in a country than deaths from heart disease even if heart disease is the leading cause of death. Deaths from preterm births amount to many decades of lost life, whereas heart disease tends to develop much later on.

But that makes the fact that heart disease is the leading cause of lost life in so many countries all the more striking, and indicative of those countries’ successes in reducing childhood mortality. By contrast, in many lower-income countries, the leading cause is something like malaria, diarrhea, preterm birth, HIV/AIDS, or violence, which all typically afflict people earlier in life than heart disease or stroke. We’ve made considerable progress in fighting childhood mortality across the globe in recent decades, but there’s still much work left to be done.