The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that there were more than 2.9 million deaths reported in the U.S. in 2019, with nearly two-thirds due to cardiovascular disease or cancer.
This article will detail causes of death by age group:
- Leading causes of death for infants
- Leading causes of death for children and teenagers
- Leading causes of death for adults under 50
- Leading causes of death for adults over 50
Table of Contents
1. Leading Causes of Death In The U.S.
Before we go into the age-based breakdown, let’s look at the aggregate picture of deaths in the U.S.
Number & Rate of Deaths By Age Group
|Age Group (Years)||Population||Deaths||Per 1,000|
The table above shows a breakdown by age group of the total U.S. population, the number of deaths, and the death rate (deaths per 1,000 individuals) for 2019.
As you might guess, the likelihood of dying increases by age almost uniformly, with the date rate going from just ~1 person per 1,000 when people are in their late teens, and early 20’s to 132 deaths per 1,000 for individuals over the age of 85.
Leading Causes of Death (2019 U.S. Deaths)
|Cause of Death||Total Deaths||% of Deaths|
|Nervous System Disorders||233,715||8%|
|Nutritional & Metabolic Diseases||140,104||5%|
|Mental & Behavioral Disorders||133,953||5%|
|Digestive System Diseases||112,888||4%|
|Urinary System Diseases||72,870||3%|
|Abnormal Symptoms & Findings||32,372||1%|
|Perinatal Period Conditions||10,412||0%|
|Skin & Tissue Diseases||5,229||0%|
|Pregnancy & Childbirth||1,102||0%|
Heart disease and cancer are by far the most significant causes of death, having accounted for 1.5 million (or 53%) of the total 2.9 million deaths in the U.S. in 2019.
Heart disease deaths numbered 874,569 in 2019, which is about one of every three U.S. deaths. Cancer caused 615,179 deaths; this is about 1 out of every 5 U.S. deaths.
Lung disease is the third leading cause (including chronic lower respiratory disease and lower respiratory infections), external causes (accidents, primarily), and nervous system disorders (Alzheimer’s Disease) round out the top five, representing 9%, 9%, and 8% of total U.S. deaths, respectively.
In total, these five causes of death account for nearly 80%, or 4 in 5, U.S. deaths.
2. Causes of Deaths: Infants
Infant mortality is the death of an infant before their first birthday. The infant mortality rate in the United States was 5.6 deaths per 1,000 live births.
Almost 21,000 infants died in the United States in 2019. The five leading causes of infant death were:
- Birth defects
- Preterm birth and low birth weight
- Injuries (e.g., suffocation)
- Sudden infant death syndrome
- Maternal pregnancy complications
Common types of birth defects include heart defects, cleft lip, and palate, neural tube defects (e.g., spina bifida) – these diseases affect about one of every 33 babies born in the U.S.
Low birth weight can affect babies born at full term but weighed less than five pounds, eight ounces. Low birth weight results from poor nutrition and prenatal care, accounting for 11% of total infant deaths in the U.S.
Sudden infant death syndrome (or SIDS) refers to when an infant dies suddenly while sleeping without any signs of suffering or distress.
For more detailed mortality data for infants, check out this dedicated page from the CDC.
Infant Mortality Rates By State
Infant mortality rates are calculated per 1,000. A mortality rate of 10.0 means that there were ten deaths per 1,000 infants.
The five states with the highest infant mortality rates in 2019 were:
- Mississippi (322 deaths; 11.46 rate)
- Louisiana (468 deaths; 9.85 rate)
- Alabama (449 deaths; 9.53 rate)
- North Dakota (77 deaths; 7.35 rate)
- Oklahoma (343 deaths; 7.08 rate)
Centers for Disease Control: Infant Mortality
Source: Centers for Disease Control
3. Causes of Deaths: Children & Teenagers
The five leading causes of death among teenagers are:
- Accidents (unintentional injuries)
- Heart disease
Accidents account for nearly 50% of all teenage deaths. Among these, motor vehicle fatalities are the leading cause of teenagers’ deaths, representing over one-third of deaths.
Leading Causes of Death In Teenagers
The chart below shows the leading causes of death for the teenage population: (1) accidents (48%), (2) homicide (13%), (3) suicide (11%), cancer (6%), and heart disease (3%).
Among unintentional injury deaths, the top causes by mechanism of injury are:
- Motor vehicle traffic accident (73%)
- Accidental poisoning (10%)
- Unintentional drowning (5%)
- Other land transport accidents (3%)
- Accidental discharge of a firearm (2%)
(Note: 10% of the above are “other unintentional deaths.”)
4. Causes of Deaths: Adults Under 50
The top causes of death for men and women in the under 50 age group are mainly preventable.
Illnesses in this age group are primarily due to lifestyle factors such as exercise, diet, and stress. Changes to your eating habits, physical activity, and lifestyle habits can help lower your mortality rate and add years to your life.
Causes of Death & Mortality Rate: Adults 50 & Under
Breakdown of External Causes of Death
While disease management is essential, according to the CDC’s data on underlying causes of death, the number of deaths from external causes far outweighs the number of deaths from diseases, chronic conditions, and other leading causes (e.g., kidney disease).
Early health statistics suggest that COVID will be the number one killer of adults under 50 in 2020 and 2021. However, in earlier years (e.g., 2019), influenza accounted for only 1.4% of deaths.
5. Causes of Deaths: Adults Over 50
It’s no surprise that the mortality rate for Americans goes up significantly as they pass 50 years old, from 6 deaths per 1,000 individuals for people in their 50s up to 207 deaths per 1,000 people for those ages 90 and above.
Deaths By Cause & Mortality Rate: Ages 50+
The leading causes of death among adults over 50 are heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases (such as bronchitis and emphysema), stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes mellitus (including both type 1 and type 2 diabetes), influenza, and pneumonia.
The good news is that with a proper diet, most diseases can be prevented or delayed. There are some simple rules that you should adhere to for the most part, including eating a lot of produce – this doesn’t mean French fries! When it comes to meat, eat lots of white meat like chicken breast, etc. Avoid fatty red meats like lean beef cuts only, please! Produce overload is significant to get the right balance of nutrients; they look a lot more appetizing.
Drug Overdose Deaths
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2020, there were more than 70,00 overdose deaths.
- This translates to nearly 200 overdoses every day of the year
- 142 deaths per day from drugs like heroin
- 33 deaths per day from misuse of prescription opioids and an additional six fatalities due to synthetic opioids such as fentanyl
- Four drug overdoses each day related to cocaine or methamphetamine use
- The highest rate is among adults aged 55–65 years
6. Frequently Asked Questions
Causes of death in the U.S. are primarily dependent on age. While accidents start as the leading cause of death in children and teenagers, heart disease and cancer rise quickly in adults until they are by far the dominant cause of death in those over 65.
Other causes specific to the senior age group include Alzheimer’s Disease and other brain conditions, including Parkinson’s Disease, strokes, and dementia.
Educating yourself about your potential causes of death in your age group can help you adopt healthy habits (e.g., a good diet, regular exercise, tobacco and alcohol avoidance, and proper firearms storage, among others) and live a long life.