The most comprehensive assessment to date of global adult mortality shows how health disparities among countries and between men and women are widening around the world. The study, Worldwide mortality in men and women aged 15-59 years from 1970 to 2010: a systematic analysis, was conducted by researchers at IHME, Harvard Medical School, and the School of Population Health at the University of Queensland. It shows that across countries, inequality in adult mortality has grown to the point where adult women in Zambia – the country with the highest adult mortality rate – now have a probability of premature death that is 16 times the adult mortality rate of the country with the lowest rate, Cyprus.
- The adult mortality gap between countries is growing, a trend that runs contrary to the lessening of disparities in child mortality and in maternal mortality. The rates of adult mortality in Southern Africa are now higher than mortality rates were in Sweden in 1751.
- The United States has fallen significantly behind other countries in reducing deaths. In 1990, the US ranked 34th in the world in female mortality and 41st in male mortality, but by 2010, it had dropped in the rankings to 49th for women and 45th for men. This puts it behind all of Western Europe and lower-income countries such as Chile, Tunisia, and Albania.
- Women overall have seen their health improve more than men. In the 40 years between 1970 and 2010, adult mortality fell by 34% in women and 19% in men globally. The gap between adult male and female mortality widened by 27% in that period.
- The lowest risk of death in adults was recorded in Iceland (men) and Cyprus (women).
- Mortality rates for men and women in 37 countries are higher in 2010 than they were in 1990.
- Eastern Europe has seen one of the largest public health reversals of modern times. Russia has fallen from a rank of 43rd place for female mortality in 1970 to 121st.
- Since 2005, sub-Saharan Africa has seen strong mortality declines, a possible result of efforts to prevent new HIV infections and to treat AIDS patients with antiretroviral drugs.
- South Asia, and India in particular, had among the highest female mortality in the world in 1970. Both the region and the country have seen major declines. In 2010, it was better to be a woman in India than it was to be a man in the US in 1997.
- The list of countries with the lowest adult mortality has changed greatly. Only three – Sweden, the Netherlands, and Norway – remained in the top 10 for male mortality between 1970 and 2010.
Recommendations for future work
Rajaratnam JK, Marcus JR, Levin-Rector A, Chalupka AN, Wang H, Dwyer L, Costa M, Lopez AD, Murray CJL. Worldwide mortality in men and women aged 15–59 years from 1970 to 2010: a systematic analysis. The Lancet. 2010 Apr 30; 375:1704–1720.