When it comes to health concerns, the COVID-19 pandemic is top of mind for most people right now. And that’s for good reason.
But there is some very good non-COVID health news that may not be getting the attention it deserves. According to the CDC, the rates of six of the top 10 causes of death in this country, which account for about three-quarters of all deaths, have been declining. That’s remarkable. And these improvements are occurring despite an aging population and an obesity epidemic that affects several health conditions.
Six positive health trends
Let’s look at the trends in these conditions and their rank as causes of death in the US:
- Heart disease (#1) and stroke (#5): Deaths due to cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and stroke, fell by about 36% between 2000 and 2014. The decline for heart disease since 2014 appears to have continued through 2018. After leveling off for several years, stroke-related deaths dropped again (by 1.3%) from 2017 to 2018.
- Cancer (#2): The drop in cancer deaths was about 2% between 2017 and 2018. Over the last 25 years it has dropped by 29%.
- Unintentional injuries (#3), including drug overdoses, and chronic lower respiratory diseases (#4), such as emphysema and asthma: Each of these categories dropped by nearly 3% from 2017 to 2018.
- Alzheimer’s disease (#6): Deaths fell 1.6%, even though the prevalence of this devastating illness is increasing.
The cholesterol connection
Another positive trend is that cholesterol levels across the US population have been moving in the right direction over the last 20 years. About 18% of Americans had a high total cholesterol in 1999; as of 2018, just 10.5% had high levels. Meanwhile, about 22% of the population had low HDL (“good”) cholesterol; that number fell to 16% in 2018. Because high total cholesterol and low HDL cholesterol are risk factors for cardiovascular disease, these improvements may at least partly explain why cardiovascular disease mortality rates are falling.
And fewer people are smoking
There’s also good news with respect to the popularity of cigarette smoking. According to the CDC, the percent of the population that smokes cigarettes is dropping significantly. In 2017 it fell to 14%, an all-time low since such statistics have been collected. This represents a steady drop from 2006, when nearly 21% of people were smokers.
Over time, fewer smokers means lower rates of smoking-related illness, including several of the top 10 causes of death like chronic lung disease, lung cancer, and cardiovascular disease.
Notably, this survey did not include vaping, which has