Risk Of Premature Death

Risk Of Premature Death: Overview

Alternative names: Early death

Premature death is defined as dying before the average life expectancy for someone of our gender and race.

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Death is an inevitable part of life, but dying before our time is highly preventable.  It is estimated that around two-thirds of premature deaths are avoidable simply by reducing the risk factors.  Despite this being "obvious" to most people, all too often we go through life thinking, "Those things only happen to other people.  I feel fine!"

According to a September, 2015 report by the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, up to half of all premature deaths in the United States are due to behavioral and other preventable factors that include modifiable habits such as tobacco use, poor diet, and lack of exercise.

Why do smokers continue smoking?  Why do heavy drinkers continue drinking?  There are a variety of answers to this question.

  • It's too difficult to quit.  Many people simply lack the willpower
  • Peer pressure makes individuals afraid of 'being different'
  • When a person feels healthy, this comes with a sense of invulnerability – "I feel fine, so it's not hurting me!"
  • Many people prefer to live for today and not worry about tomorrow... until it's too late
  • We don't like to think of bad things happening to ourselves – "These things only happen to other people."  Just remember, many of those 'other people' were thinking the same thing!

Causes and Development; Contributing Risk Factors

Four main risk factors – poor diet, tobacco use, obesity, and high blood pressure – have been identified as the primary causes of premature death in the United States.

In medical terms, the leading causes of premature death are:

Over a third of people will develop cancer at some point in their life.  Although there are over 200 different kinds of cancer, half of all cases involve lung, breast, prostate or bowel cancer.

Smoking, drinking, smoking, poor diet, chronic high blood pressure, and physical inactivity all pose serious risks to our long-term health.

For unknown reasons, being overweight is a greater health risk for men than it is for women.  Obese men are at higher risk of diabetes and have higher levels of dangerous liver fat.

Less obvious risk factors for early death include:

  • Watching too much TV. Compared to people who watched one hour of TV or less each day, those who watch 3 or more hours have been found to be twice as likely to die prematurely.  However, time spent on the Internet or driving has been found to have no effect on the risk of premature death.
  • Loneliness. Studies have shown that a variety of aspects related to extreme loneliness can increase a person's risk of early death.  Lonely people are less able to deal with stress or have a positive outlook on life; they also tend to have higher blood pressure and cortisol levels (related to depression), and more disrupted sleep.
  • Early retirement. Although workaholics face certain risks, not working at all can increase risk of depression, heart disease, and premature death.  In fact, many people die not long after retiring, almost as if their body has lost its purpose for living.  One study found that for every year that a person retires early, they increase their risk of a premature death by 13.4%.
  • Depression. An analysis of six decades of mental health and mortality data on 3,410 adults showed that depression was associated with an increased risk of premature death, even after accounting for depression-related factors such as obesity, smoking and drinking. [CMAJ October 23, 2017 vol. 189 no. 42 E1304-E1310 ]
  • Exposure to air pollution. Many people tend to ignore air pollution because it is so widespread.  Nevertheless, prolonged air pollution exposure is regarded as one of the main environmental health risks, being linked to increased stroke, ischemic heart disease, acute respiratory infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, and certain cancers.
  • Not brushing your teeth. A long-term study by Swedish researchers studying 1,390 subjects from 1985 to 2009 found that excessive buildup of dental plaque appears to be linked to premature death caused by cancer.

Treatment and Prevention

An unhealthy lifestyle is the root cause of many early death risk factors, including about a third of all cancers, with smoking, drinking, and poor diet being the chief culprits.  Many studies have shown that behavioral changes such as quitting smoking, improving diet, and increasing physical activity significantly reduce risk of premature death.

Most cases of heart disease, and many cancers, are preventable.  For example, regular exercise reduces your risk of heart attack by 30%; being overweight puts additional strain on your heart.

It is estimated that 5-10% of strokes could be prevented if the victims were aware of the symptoms and had sought emergency treatment.  High blood pressure is the main cause of stroke, and yet many people with high blood pressure are not doing anything about it.

Liver disease is a silent killer – many patients have no idea that anything is wrong until they develop liver failure and it's too late.  The main causes of liver disease are heavy drinking, obesity and viral hepatitis.  Cutting down on drinking and losing weight are the best ways to reduce risk.

A variety of respiratory diseases from asthma to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are leading causes of death.  Smoking and exposure to other airborne chemicals are the main risk factors.

Regular check-ups and screening help to reduce our chances of developing diseases such as cancer or heart disease.  It also help to catch these diseases at an early stage, where often they are still treatable.

Don't ignore symptoms.  When symptoms arise, try to identify their cause – especially when they are symptoms of possibly serious conditions.

On This Page

Risk Of Premature Death:

Risk factors for Risk Of Premature Death:


Lack of Sleep

A February, 2011 study published in the European Heart Journal reported that researchers at the University of Warwick have linked a lack of sleep to a range of disorders which often result in early death.  This major long-term study followed over 470,000 patients in 8 countries for between 7 and 25 years.

Symptoms - Food - Intake

(High) fast food consumption

Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition on June 7, 2017 suggests that those who consume fried potatoes (French fries, hash browns, or any other type) two or more times per week have double the chance of dying when compared to those who eat none.  The reason is not clear, but the correlation was significant.

Symptoms - Muscular

Having excess body fat

The fact that thinner people live longer is well-documented.  When visiting old folks' homes, it will become apparent that most of the overweight residents have unfortunately passed on.

Being very skinny or being lean or underweight

The fact that thinner people live longer is well-documented.  When visiting old folks' homes, it will become apparent that most of the overweight residents have unfortunately passed on.

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