U.S. Death Rate Hits Record Low

Kelli Miller Stacy

March 17, 2011

March 17, 2011 — U.S. adults are living longer than ever before and fewer infants are dying, according to data released today by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

“Deaths: Preliminary Data for 2009,” is based on a review of nearly all death certificates reported to NCHS in 2009 from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories. Statistics were compared to data from the previous year.

The new report offers encouraging news: The U.S. death rate for 2009 hit a record low, and significantly fewer people died that year from 10 of the top 15 leading causes of death.

Specific findings from the 2009 preliminary data:

  • The age-adjusted death rate in the U.S. continued to fall for the 10th consecutive year. An "age-adjusted" death rate takes into consideration the changes in your risk of death as you grow older.

  • The age-adjusted death rate for 2009 dropped 2.3% from the previous year.

  • Overall life expectancy rose slightly from 78 years in 2008 to 78.2 years in 2009.

  • Life expectancy for white Americans slightly increased by 0.2 years.

  • Life expectancy for African-Americans did not change from the previous year.

  • The gap in life expectancy between whites and African-Americans slightly increased to 4.3 years in 2009, up 0.2% from 2008.

Leading Causes of Death

Deaths from 10 of the top 15 leading causes of death in 2009 significantly declined. The 15 leading causes of death in 2009 and the decreases in associated death rates were reported as follows:

  1. Heart disease: 3.7%

  2. Cancer: 1.1%

  3. Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 4.1%

  4. Stroke: 4.2%

  5. Accidents: 4.1%

  6. Alzheimer’s disease: 4.1%

  7. Diabetes: 4.1%

  8. Flu and pneumonia: 4.7%

  9. Inflammation and scarring of the kidneys (nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis): no change

  10. Intentional self-harm (suicide): no change

  11. Widespread blood infection (septicemia): 1.8%

  12. Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis: no change

  13. High blood pressure (essential hypertension) and kidney disease due to long-term high blood pressure: no change

  14. Parkinson’s disease: no change

  15. Homicide: 6.8%

Suicide swapped places with septicemia in the 2009 ranking to become the 10th leading cause of death, although the number of suicides did not significantly increase between 2008 and 2009.

Infant Death Rate

The infant mortality rate hit a record low in 2009, dropping 2.6% from the previous year. The infant mortality rate is the number of babies that die before their first birthday per every 1,000 live births in the same year.

The 10 leading causes of infant death for 2009 were:

  1. Birth defects and chromosome abnormalities

  2. Disorders related to premature birth and low birth weight, not elsewhere classified

  3. Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)

  4. Problems in the baby related to complications in the pregnant mother

  5. Accidents (unintentional injuries)

  6. Problems with the placenta, umbilical cord, and membranes

  7. Widespread bacterial blood infection (bacteria sepsis) in a newborn

  8. Respiratory distress in a newborn

  9. Diseases of the circulatory system

  10. Severe bleeding in a newborn (neonatal hemorrhage)

Significant declines were noted for two of the 10 leading causes of infant death between 2008 and 2009:

The infant mortality rate due to complications in the pregnant mother declined 7.5%.

The infant mortality rate for accidents dropped 8.5%.

Infant deaths due to SIDS have steadily declined for more than two decades. The observed decrease in 2009 however, did not represent a significant change between 2008 and 2009.


News release, National Center for Health Statistics.

Kochanek, K. National Vital Statistics Reports, March 16, 2011; vol 59.


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