This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Saturday, June 25, 2011

A New Twist on the "Real" Causes of Death

As I note in Chapter 5 of the text, there have been widely circulated studies of the "real" causes of death, by which the researchers mean things like smoking, alcohol and drug use, and diet. Now researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health have produced a new twist on this theme--the social categories that increase your chance of early death. None of this will be news to readers of my book, but the numbers are very interesting, nonetheless:

The investigators found that approximately 245,000 deaths in the United States in the year 2000 were attributable to low levels of education, 176,000 to racial segregation, 162,000 to low social support, 133,000 to individual-level poverty, 119,000 to income inequality, and 39,000 to area-level poverty.
Overall, 4.5% of U.S. deaths were found to be attributable to poverty -- midway between previous estimates of 6% and 2.3%. However the risks associated with both poverty and low education were higher for individuals aged 25 to 64 than for those 65 or older.
"Social causes can be linked to death as readily as can pathophysiological and behavioral causes," points out Dr. Galea, who is also Gelman Professor of Epidemiology. For example, the number of deaths the researchers calculated as attributable to low education (245,000) is comparable to the number caused by heart attacks (192,898), which was the leading cause of U.S. deaths in 2000. The number of deaths attributable to racial segregation (176,000) is comparable to the number from cerebrovascular disease (167,661), the third leading cause of death in 2000, and the number attributable to low social support (162,000) compares to deaths from lung cancer (155,521).
The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and has been accepted for publication in the American Journal of Public Health.

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