What Killed Us, What Kills Us Now

From Brian Fung at The Atlantic:

The chart ranks the top ten causes of death for each year. In addition to the remarkable decline in mortality overall, it’s also noticeable how heart disease and cancer have surged to become two of America’s top killers. In 1900, cancer and heart disease accounted for 18 percent of all deaths. Today, that figure’s jumped to 63 percent. In addition to being responsible for a greater share of deaths overall, the absolute number of people being killed by these chronic conditions has also grown, from 201 people out of every 100,000 in 1900 to nearly 380 per 100,000 today.

Part of the increase can be traced to our increasingly sedentary lifestyles. But we shouldn’t forget that vaccines, regular screenings, and other advances in medicine have drastically reduced the incidence of other ailments that once sealed many an American’s fate. The way we’ve chopped up and redefined some conditions has also changed the country’s death profile. There’s the seemingly endless “discovery” of new diseases. And it’s worth pointing out that the rise of cancer and heart disease, as illnesses that generally affect people late in life, are themselves an indicator of improvements in a society’s overall health. The fact that more people are living long enough to be diagnosed with cancer says something about how far we’ve come.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Wait a minute. A decline in mortality? As far as I know for every birth there should be a death, eventually.

    It could be correct that the more chopped up parts account for a higher percentage of mortality, but mortality has not dropped….

  • tds

    DRT (#1): I may be wrong. I am not the best at reading charts and statistics. But I don’t think the chart shows a decline in the overall mortality rate. I think it shows a decrease in the total mortality for JUST the top ten causes. I think…

  • Mark Z.

    DRT: They’re the number of us who die each year, and they’re normalized to population. So 0.6% of the population dies each year, while 1.1% died each year in 1900. It just means we’re living longer.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    i’m with tds, I think it shows a decline in the mortality rate for the top 10 causes. But the first sentence of the post says: “The chart ranks the top ten causes of death for each year. In addition to the remarkable decline in mortality overall, it’s also noticeable how heart disease and cancer have surged to become two of America’s top killers. In 1900, cancer and heart disease…”

    Mark Z., let me see, if we all live to 100 steady state then we would expect that 1% would die each year on average. If we all lived to 50, then we would need 2% to die each year to make a steady state population. You are right!

    But, mortality is still 100% :)

  • EricG

    “the rise of cancer and heart disease, as illnesses that generally affect people late in life, are themselves an indicator of improvements in a society’s overall health.”

    This is an unfortunate and misleading statement. While it is true that the rate of cancer has increased in part because people are now living long enough to get it, the rest is wrong. Lots of young people get cancer – 70,000 per year between the ages of 15 and 39. Besides homicide and suicide it is the leading cause of death in that age group. And unlike other age groups, the rate of cancer mortality is not improving much (and is actually getting worse for some cancers, including the one I have). Young folks with cancer are often misdiagnosed, and the disease is caught too late, because docs assume young people don’t get cancer. It is a significant problem.

  • Luke Allison

    EricG,

    I’m sorry to hear that. Anything specific we can be praying for? Family, fear, hope, etc?

    Let me know….

  • EricG

    Thanks Luke. I would appreciate prayers for any and all of those things.

  • Rob Henderson

    EricG- Good insight. I buried a young man last year who was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. He had been to the emergency room a few times and it was even suggested that his pain was “in his head.” When we was finally diagnosed properly precious time had been lost.

    (And you are in my prayers.)


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