CDC: Lifestyle Changes Can Reduce Death From Top 5 Causes

Lifestyle changes like avoiding tobacco, increasing physical activity, and eating healthier could significantly reduce deaths in the United States, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The report says heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, and unintentional injuries are the top 5 causes of death in the country. Together they account for 63% – or almost 900,000 – deaths each year in people under age 80. According to the CDC, about 20% to about 40% of deaths from each of these causes could be prevented.

The report, published in the May 2, 2014 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, compared the death rates from these causes in all 50 states from 2008-2010.

The analysis showed if all states had the lowest death rate for each cause, it would be possible to prevent 21% of early cancer deaths, prolonging about 84,500 lives; 34% of early heart disease deaths, prolonging about 92,000 lives; 39% of early chronic lower respiratory disease deaths, prolonging about 29,000 lives; 33% of early stroke deaths, prolonging about 17,000 lives; and 39% of unintentional injury deaths, prolonging about 37,000 lives.

The study authors suggest states with higher death rates from the leading causes (many of which are in the Southeast) might want to look for solutions in states with similar populations but better outcomes, to find out how they’re using policies, programs, and services to more effectively address the factors that lead to health disparities.

Lowering risk

Making healthy choices can lower your risk of dying early from the 5 leading causes of death:

  • Avoiding tobacco can lower your risk for cancer, heart disease, chronic respiratory disease, and stroke. If you don’t use tobacco products, don’t start. If you do, quit. For help, call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345.
  • Eating a healthy diet can lower your risk for cancer and heart disease. The American Cancer Society recommends eating at least 2 ½ cups of vegetables and fruits each day; eating less red meat (beef, pork, and lamb) and less processed meat (bacon, sausage, luncheon meats, and hot dogs); choosing foods made from whole grains instead of refined grains; and eating fewer sweets.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight can lower your risk for cancer, heart disease, and stroke.
  • Engaging in physical activity can lower your risk for cancer, heart disease, and stroke. Adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity (equal to a brisk walk) or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity (makes your heartbeat and breathing faster, and makes you sweat) each week, preferably spread throughout the week. Clear any new activity with your doctor.
  • Limiting exposure to sun and UV rays can lower your risk for skin cancer. When out in the sun, protect your skin with clothing, a hat, sunglasses, and broad spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher. Seek shade, especially between 10am and 4pm. And avoid indoor tanning.
  • Limiting alcohol consumption can lower your risk for cancer, stroke, and unintentional injury. Men should have no more than 2 drinks a day and women no more than 1.

The CDC recommends wearing seatbelts, using motorcycle helmets, and avoiding misuse of prescription and illegal drugs to cut down on the risk of unintentional injury.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Potentially Preventable Deaths from the Five Leading Causes of Death – United States, 2008-2010. Published in the May 2, 2014 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Ga.

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