Detailed Findings and Methodology:
In recent years, the opioid epidemic has led to an increase in the number of deaths among young people and contributed to the first increase in the U.S. death rate in a decade. Accidental poisoning fatalities — which mostly result from drug overdoses — surpassed car accidents in 2013 as the leading cause of death among 18 to 34 year olds.
People are more likely to die of different causes at different ages. During infancy and childhood, toddlers are most likely to die from birth defects and unintentional injuries such as drowning or suffocation. For people 65 and older, the leading causes of death are diseases associated with old age and poor health such as heart disease, cancer, and chronic lower respiratory diseases. As people transition from teenagehood to young adults, the number one leading cause of death changes from car accidents to accidental poisoning, likely due to drug overdose.
Young people are more likely to die from causes associated with risky behavior than disease. While injuries account for less than one in every 10 deaths in the general population, they comprise more than two in every three deaths among 18 to 34 year olds. Young people engage in risky sexual behavior, substance abuse, and violence more often than the general population, which increases their likelihood of falling victim to such tragedies as homicide, death by drowning, HIV, and fatal pregnancy complications.
Americans aged 65 and older account for 97% of all disease- and other non-injury-related deaths. In old age, these ailments tend to be the consequence of experiences and choices accumulated over a lifetime. Cancer, heart disease, and other life-threatening diseases can often be attributed to years of smoking, and long exposure to other harmful materials in the environment.
In younger people, by contrast, life-threatening diseases are often inherited, and tend to have less clear causes. Still, a small portion of cancer cases and other serious diseases in young people can be the result of lifestyle choices and exposure to harmful environmental factors.
To determine the leading causes of death for young people, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed mortality data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for Americans aged 18 to 34 for 2015. Mortality data by cause of death for all ages also came from the CDC and is for 2015. For the broader groupings — unintentional injury, suicide, and homicide — the cause of death was broken down into subcategories such as poisoning, motor vehicle accident, firearm, etc. Population data also came from the CDC.
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