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Diversification in causes of death in low-mortality countries

A new paper on variation in causes of death sheds further light on our understanding of population health and ageing. Just published in BMJ Global Health by our Marie-Pier Bergeron Boucher and José Manuel Aburto with Alyson van Raalte.

By Jana Vobecká, , 8/3/2020

Diversification in causes of death in low-mortality countries: emerging patterns and implications

In industrialised societies, more individuals than ever are reaching older ages and have become more homogeneous in their age at death. This has led to a decrease in lifespan variation, with substantial implications for the reduction of health inequalities. We focus on a variation in causes of death that sheds further light on our understanding of population health and ageing.

Data from the WHO Mortality Database and the Human Mortality Database are used to estimate cause-of-death distributions and life tables in 15 low-mortality countries. Cause-of-death variation, using 19 groups of causes, is quantified using entropy measures and analysed from 1994 to 2017.

The last two decades have seen increasing diversity in causes of death in low-mortality countries. There have been important reductions in the share of deaths from diseases of the circulatory system, while the share of a range of other causes, such as diseases of the genitourinary system, mental and behavioural disorders, and diseases of the nervous system, has been increasing, leading to a more complex cause-of-death distribution.

The diversification in causes of death witnessed in recent decades is most likely a result of the increase in life expectancy, together with better diagnoses and awareness of certain diseases. Such emerging patterns bring additional challenges to healthcare systems, such as the need to research, monitor and treat a wider range of diseases. It also raises new questions concerning the distribution of health resources.

Figure: Cause-of-death variation over time for 15 low-mortality countries, 1994–2017; (A) females and (B) males

Cite the paper: Bergeron-Boucher M, Aburto JM, van Raalte A. “Diversification in causes of death in low-mortality countries: emerging patterns and implications”. BMJ Global Health 2020.

Click here to read the paper.

CPop contributing authors:

Marie-Pier Bergeron Boucher

José Manuel Aburto