Poor Diet, Physical Inactivity Set to Overtake Tobacco In Death Stakes

About half of all deaths in the U.S. can be attributed to largely preventable behaviors and exposures, with tobacco use and poor diet/physical inactivity accounting for the majority of preventable deaths, according to a study in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

According to background information in the article, quantifying modifiable behavioral risk factors, which are the leading causes of death in the United States, will provide insight into the effects of recent trends and indicate missed prevention opportunities.

Ali H. Mokdad and colleagues from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, conducted a study to identify and quantify the leading causes of death in the United States. The study included a comprehensive MEDLINE search of English-language articles that identified epidemiological, clinical, and laboratory studies linking risk behaviors and mortality. Prevalence and relative risk were identified during the literature search. The researchers used 2000 mortality data reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to identify the causes and number of deaths.

The estimates of actual cause of death were computed by multiplying estimates of the cause-attributable fraction of preventable deaths with the total mortality data.

The researchers found that the leading causes of death in 2000 were tobacco (435,000 deaths; 18.1 percent of total U.S. deaths), poor diet and physical inactivity (400,000 deaths; 16.6 percent), and alcohol consumption (85,000 deaths; 3.5 percent).

Other actual causes of death were microbial agents (i.e., influenza and pneumonia, 75,000), toxic agents (exposure to pollutants, asbestos, etc., 55,000), motor vehicle crashes (43,000), incidents involving firearms (29,000), sexual behaviors (20,000), and illicit use of drugs (17,000).

“The rapid increase in the prevalence of overweight means that this proportion is likely to increase substantially in the next few years. The burden of chronic diseases is compounded by the aging effects of the baby boomer generation and the concomitant increased cost of illness at a time when health care spending continues to outstrip growth in the gross domestic product of the United States,” the authors write. “Our findings indicate that interventions to prevent and increase cessation of smoking, improve diet, and increase physical activity must become much higher priorities in the public health and health care systems.”

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