These charts give you a pretty good clue of how you'd die if you kicked the bucket tomorrow.
Falling rates of death from cardiovascular disease have led to a 15 per cent drop in the overall number of years lost through early death, new research from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has found.
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However, coronary heart disease - a type of cardiovascular disease - remains the biggest killer of men over 44 and women over 74.
How you may die varies greatly with your age.
How you may die varies greatly with your age. Photo: Michele Mossop
For men and women between 15 and 44, suicide is the biggest killer, while children under 14 are most likely to die in road accidents.
The charts above are a snapshot from 2011-13. This interactive chart (below) shows how the percentage of deaths related to various causes has changed since 1907 (use the slider to travel back in time) and with gender and age (think of yourself ageing as your eye moves from left to right). Click/tap on the chart for more detail about each cause.
Each colour represents a broad cause of death - the greater the height, the more deaths caused in that age group. In 2013, for example, young adults were most likely to die from injury and poisoning, while cancer was most lethal for the middle-aged, and circulatory diseases were the leading killer of the elderly.
The 'burden of disease' and its impact on Australia
The 'burden of disease' measures the effects of years of life lived with a disease or injury or from dying early from a disease. Vision courtesy: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
However, go back 110 years or so and the picture is very different. In 1907, for example, Australians of all ages were 21 times more likely to die from infectious and parasitic diseases, such as tuberculosis, diarrhoea and septicaemia, than cancer.
In 1918-19, the Spanish influenza pandemic - the worst flu outbreak in world history - reached Australia. The rate of respiratory deaths rocketed 3½-fold in a single year.
By 1960, circulatory disease had become the top killer, claiming nearly 39 times as many lives as infectious diseases.
Then, in 2013, a new deadly disease, cancer, rose to the top rank.
Here are some of the most dramatic changes in the causes of death in Australia over the 20th century for the seven life stages: infant, childhood, young adulthood, parent age, middle age, retirement and old age.
Infant (0-4 years)
The death rate among 0- to 4-year-olds has plummeted by 96 per cent since the late 1900s.
While diarrhoea deaths are virtually unheard of today - fewer than one in 100,000 babies die from diarrhoea - it was one of the likeliest causes of death in the 1900s, killing about 640 babies in 100,000.
Deaths from influenza and pneumonia also plunged from about 190 in 100,000 babies in 1907 to fewer than one in 100,000 in 2013.
"Growth in income, increased education and improvements in food intake, water quality and sanitation account for much of the decline," Ann Hunt, head of the Population Health and Primary Care Unit at the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, says.
Vaccines and new medicines such as antibiotics were also important, she says.
Childhood (5-14 years)
Infectious diseases (mostly tuberculosis) were the biggest killer of children in the late 1900s, accounting for about 36 per cent of deaths, compared with 2 per cent now.
These days, injury (mostly road accidents) is the leading cause of death among children, accounting for 40 per cent of deaths of boys and 30 per cent of girls in 2013.
Advances in understanding how diseases spread were critical in reducing infectious disease mortality, epidemiologist Richard Taylor, from UNSW's School of Public Health and Community Medicine, says.
"The sanitary revolution was coincident with the germ theory of disease, which came about in the latter part of the 19th century, around the 1880s," he says.
Before that, people believed diseases came from vapours released by rotting vegetable and animal matter. "Basically, they thought disease was caused by stink."
Young adult (15-24 years)
Since the 1960s, injury - mostly suicide, then road accidents - has been the chief cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds, accounting for three-quarters of deaths among young men and more than half of deaths among young women.
Men have far higher rates of death and injury from trauma because they live more dangerously, Emeritus Professor Simon Chapman, from the University of Sydney's School of Public Health, says.
"They play a lot of contact sport, have more alcohol problems, tend to drive more recklessly and have occupations where they're doing dangerous and exposed outdoor work," he says.
However, deaths from external injury are now at their lowest levels since the post-war era.
Mandatory safety measures in houses, workplaces and on the roads - think circuit breakers, fire alarms and seat belts - have reduced deaths from trauma enormously, Professor Chapman says.
"When you put all those things together, they've just changed the face of public health outcomes."
Parent age (25-44 years)
Suicide is now the leading killer of parent-age Australians, following steep falls in rates of death from infectious and circulatory diseases.
Suicide was one of two epidemics in the 1990s that left a deep imprint on the death rates of men in this age group. (The other, HIV, is seen in the spike in infectious diseases in the mid-1990s.)
"That was the first generation to be hit by casualisation of the workplace and lack of secure employment," Professor Taylor says.
"This was also the first generation to come into this brave new world of parental separation."
These experiences may have made this particular group more susceptible to suicide over their lifetimes, Professor Taylor says. Research suggests the middle-aged men now driving up the national suicide rate were also at the centre of the 1990s youth suicide epidemic.
Middle age (45-64 years)
Cancer, rather than circulatory diseases, is now the biggest killer of the middle-aged, accounting for 55 per cent of deaths among women and 42 per cent among men.
Much of the rise is due to lung cancer in men, which, by the late 1960s, had become the single greatest cause of cancer death.
"Chronic diseases, particularly cancers, are rising because of increased life expectancy," Professor Chapman says. "Cancers tend to affect people later in life."
The good news is that we've become very good at preventing many cancers, he says. For example, lung cancer, because fewer people are taking up smoking, childhood cancers such as leukaemia and brain cancer, and stomach cancer.
"Widespread access to refrigeration means everybody can preserve their food by cooling it now, whereas in the past they preserved it mainly by smoking it and salting it, which was particularly bad for stomach cancer," Professor Chapman says.
Retirement age (65-84 years)
For virtually the entire 20th century, circulatory disease, such as stroke and heart attack, was by far the leading cause of death in this age group, responsible for more than seven in 10 deaths at its peak in the mid-1960s.
Sedentary lifestyles, smoking and dietary changes contributed to soaring rates of circulatory disease. "In the first half of the century there was a lot more fat in the diet, with people having greater access to meat. Meat used to be considered a treat, way, way back," Professor Chapman says.
However, since the 1970s, deaths from circulatory disease have plummeted and in 2013, made up just over 26 per cent of deaths in this age group.
While the use of statins to treat cholesterol and anti-hypertensive medications to treat high blood pressure have played a role in the decline in recent years, Professor Taylor says the bulk of the fall "certainly wasn't due to statins" or surgical advances.
"It was actually due to changes in behaviour, particularly in diet and in smoking," he says.
Old age (85 years and older)
Deaths from dementia and Alzheimer's have doubled over the past decade, becoming more lethal than stroke and catching up to coronary heart disease (both types of circulatory disease) in the mid-2000s.
"As people live longer, there'll be a lot more deaths from things that kill people in later life - diseases of senility like Alzheimer's, cancer," Professor Chapman says.
"There will probably be an increase in suicide among the very old because a lot more people living into that age group may find their quality of life not worth going on with."
Grim as it sounds, we all have to die of something and the long view is more than a lesson in history, Professor Taylor says.
"This is public health in action ... It's very important to understand why these improvements occurred so we don't go backwards."
Read more at http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/national/health/this-chart-shows-how-you-will-probably-die-and-its-changed-a-lot-in-100-years-20160509-gopmgh.html
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