Publication date: 
December 17, 2014

In the United States, average life expectancy for men increased to 76.3 years. Women's average life expectancy increased to 81.4 years in 2013.

SEATTLE – Life expectancy improved for both men and women in the United States, at an average of 3.5 years gained since 1990. But at the same time a number of diseases, including chronic kidney disease and Alzheimer's disease, claimed more lives in the United States in 2013 than in 1990.

Published in The Lancet on December 18, "Global, regional, and national age-sex specific all-cause and cause-specific mortality for 240 causes of death, 1990-2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013" was conducted by an international consortium of researchers coordinated by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington.

The leading killers in the United States were ischemic heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, and lung cancer, accounting for 37% of all deaths in 2013. Road injuries and suicide were the top two causes of death for people between the ages of 15 and 49, resulting in 46,554 lives lost in 2013. Among individuals 70 and older, ischemic heart disease claimed the most lives that year. The top cause of child mortality was preterm birth complications in 2013, killing 6,822 children under the age of 5.

In the United States, chronic kidney disease and Alzheimer's disease took more lives in 2013 than in 1990, with deaths increasing 118% and 79%, respectively. Mortality from diabetes also increased 51% between 1990 and 2013.

Since 1990, the United States saw marked declines in mortality from a number of diseases that used to take a large toll on the country. For instance, by 2013, mortality from interpersonal violence decreased 31%, and road injuries caused 11% fewer deaths. In 1990, these causes killed 73,680 people. Twenty-three years later, they claimed 12,650 fewer lives.

The study also revealed how some diseases and injuries cause different mortality patterns for males and females. For example, in the United States, lung cancer took a greater toll on men, killing 100,723 males and 75,464 females in 2013. By contrast, Alzheimer's disease claimed 168,480 women’s lives and 113,381 men’s lives.

"The fact that people are living longer in most parts of the world is good news but we must do more to address health disparities," said IHME Director Dr. Christopher Murray. "Only with the best available evidence can we develop policies to improve health and save lives."

Globally, people live an average of 6.2 years longer than they did in 1990, with life expectancy rising to just under 72 years in 2013. Women showed a slightly larger average gain (an increase of 6.6 years) than men (a rise of 5.8 years). Improvements in health, reduced fertility, and shifts in the world’s age patterns have driven these global gains in life expectancy.

In the United States, the average life expectancy for women was 81.4 years in 2013, with men living an average of 76.3 years. By contrast, women lived an average of 78.8 years and men had a life expectancy of 71.9 years in 1990. Out of the 188 countries included in the study, the United States ranked 35th for women and 39th for men for longest life expectancies. In 2013, Andorra had the longest life expectancy for women (86.7 years) and Qatar had the longest for men (81.2 years). Lesotho had the shortest life expectancy for both women (51.2 years) and men (45.6 years).

Worldwide, ischemic heart disease, stroke, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) claimed the most lives, accounting for nearly 32% of all deaths. Much global progress has been made in reducing mortality from diseases such as measles and diarrhea, with 83% and 51% declines, respectively, from 1990 to 2013.

The Global Burden of Disease (GBD) Study 2013 is part of an ongoing effort to produce the most timely and up-to-date understanding of what kills and ails people worldwide. Thousands of collaborators worldwide work together to generate annual estimates of deaths by cause, years of life lost to disability, and rates of premature mortality and illness. To make these data as useful and relevant to policymakers and country leaders as possible, findings from the GBD study can be used at the global, regional, national, and even subnational levels to track trends in health over time.

Researchers found a widening gap between countries with the lowest and highest death rates from a given disease – a potential sign of increasing inequalities in health. They also emphasize the importance of measuring local disease burdens, as the health challenges found in one corner of a country can widely vary from those experienced a few hours away.

Globally, a number of diseases that have received less attention relative to others are some of the biggest causes of premature death, particularly drug use disorders, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and cirrhosis. The gender gap in death rates for adults between the ages of 20 to 44 is widening, and HIV/AIDS, interpersonal violence, road injuries, and maternal mortality are some of the key conditions responsible. For children under 5, diarrheal diseases, pneumonia, neonatal disorders, and malaria are still among the leading causes of death.

Leading causes of death in the United States, with the number of lives lost

1990 (deaths)

2013 (deaths)

1. Ischemic heart disease (598,154)

1. Ischemic heart disease (546,210)

2. Alzheimer's disease (157,858)

2. Alzheimer's disease (281,860)

3. Stroke (149,737)

3. Lung cancer (176,187)

4. Lung cancer (135,787)

4. Stroke (164,233)

5. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (93,964)

5. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (153,204)

6. Pneumonia (82,968)

6. Pneumonia (85,756)

7. Colon cancer (58,347)

7. Diabetes (74,924)

8. Diabetes (49,536)

8. Chronic kidney disease (70,199)

9. Road injuries (49,445)

9. Colon cancer (68,003)

10. Breast cancer (42,205)

10. Breast cancer (45,299)

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The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) is an independent global health research organization at the University of Washington that provides rigorous and comparable measurement of the world’s most important health problems and evaluates the strategies used to address them. IHME makes this information widely available so that policymakers have the evidence they need to make informed decisions about how to allocate resources to best improve population health.

Media contact:

William Heisel
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