Causes of Death, Determinants of Mortality & Mortality Rates

Causes of Death, Determinants of Mortality & Mortality Rates
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  • 0:00 Mortality Rates
  • 1:40 Causes of Death
  • 2:35 Income & Nutrition
  • 4:01 Public Health & Medicine
  • 5:09 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson discusses the not-so-popular topic of death. It explains the concept of mortality rates and the factors that affect it. It also dives into how where you live is often linked to what your likely cause of death might be.

Mortality Rates

In today's lesson, we're going to tackle the not-so-popular topic of mortality rates. With mortality usually denoting death on a large scale, this means we'll be diving into a study of the ratios of deaths in an area to the population of the area or the number of deaths in a given period or area. Adding to this already morbid topic, we'll discuss some common causes of death, as well as some of the major factors that determine mortality rates.

Fortunately, we get to start with some good news. Recent news about mortality rates is looking better. On whole, humans are living longer! Throughout much of history, a man could only expect to see about his 25th birthday. However, modern times have seen a decline in mortality rates.

Putting some numbers to this, in the 1820s, male life expectancy in England, one of the wealthiest countries of the day, was only around 40, but by the early 20th century, this number rose into the 50s. Today, both the average Englishman and American man can expect to see into their late 70s.

Adding to the good news, places like India and China have also seen a drop in their mortality rates. Quite impressively, the life expectancy in these two countries has risen by 30 years since the mid-20th century. Of course, just like a teeter-totter, as life expectancies go up, mortality rates go down.

Regrettably, the news in Africa has not been as positive. Yes, the 20th century did see a decline in the continent's mortality rates. However this all changed in the 1980s when the AIDS epidemic began ravaging the land and affecting mortality rates.

Causes of Death

Speaking of mortality rates across the globe, where a person lives has a whole lot to do with what their likely cause of death will be. For instance, in developed countries, or wealthier countries, cancer and cardiovascular disease are among two of the leading causes of death. Since these diseases usually affect the elderly more so than the young, childhood deaths only make up about one percent of deaths within first world countries.

Sadly, the same cannot be said of the impoverished world. In underdeveloped and poor countries, infectious disease is the leading cause of death. Since young children are very susceptible to infectious disease, childhood deaths make up about 30% of the deaths in poor countries.

Speaking of factors that affect mortality rates, let's turn our attention to some of the most commonly discussed determinants of mortality.

Income & Nutrition

Our first determinant is income. Keeping things simple, studies suggest that as per capita income rises, life expectancy rises. As a striking example, the average mortality rate of a person between the ages of 45-64 who lives within the U.S. and makes only about $15,000 a year is two times higher than that of a U.S. resident of the same age that makes $30,000 or more.

Giving reason for this large difference, many argue that low income is often positively correlated to our next determinant of mortality, nutrition. Stated simply, nutritional status affects mortality. Like we learned in elementary school, our bodies are machines that need fuel. Proper nutrition is that fuel. In fact, the body's ability to fight disease is tied to proper nutrition.

Making the nutritional stakes even higher, studies show that maternal nutrition during pregnancy impacts the mortality rates of offspring. If a mother does not consume an adequate amount of nutrients and calories while pregnant, her children's organs may not develop correctly, and therefore, may be more susceptible to diseases later on in life. For this reason, those who study mortality rates feel maternal education is of extreme importance.

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