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U.S. death rates on the decline, study finds

Better treatments for chronic illnesses like heart disease and cancer have led to a drop in the U.S. death rate since 1970, but Americans face increasing threats from obesity and smoking, a study said.
/ Source: Reuters

Better treatments for chronic illnesses like heart disease and cancer have led to a drop in the U.S. death rate since 1970, but Americans face increasing threats from obesity and smoking, a study said on Tuesday.

An American Cancer Society analysis of annual U.S. mortality rates found deaths from all causes declined from 1,242 deaths per 100,000 in 1970 to 845 per 100,000 people in 2002 — a 32 percent decrease.

The look at six leading causes of death found mortality rates over three decades declined 63 percent for stroke, 52 percent for heart disease, 41 percent for accidents and 3 percent for cancer. The death rate from chronic lung disease doubled and it rose 45 percent from diabetes, an outgrowth of an aging population that smoked and rising rates of obesity.

“While improved detection and treatment for chronic diseases has resulted in declining mortality rates, it has also increased the prevalence of 'treated disease' and an associated increase in health care expenditures,” wrote study author Ahmedin Jemal of the American Cancer Society.

The decline in death rates from stroke and accidents has slowed since the early 1990s, the report said, citing the relaxation of highway speed limits for the latter. A decline since 1990 in cancer death rates was credited to tobacco control efforts.

Though the nation’s death rate declined, the actual number of Americans dying increased because the population grew and became older, the report published in this week’s issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association said.