The Fastest Growing Causes of Death in America

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Deaths in the U.S. have skyrocketed over the last several years. While the U.S. population rose just 1.4% from 2018 to 2021, the number of deaths rose 22.0% – the largest increase in mortality in 100 years. Life expectancy fell from 78.8 years in 2019 to 76.1 years in 2021, reversing decades of steady progress in longevity. These are the 15 leading causes of death in America.

While the rapid increase in excess mortality is largely due to COVID-19, directly or indirectly, there are smaller, stealthier, pandemics killing Americans at alarming rates. And while many leading causes of death have spiked due to indirect or direct collateral damage from the coronavirus, several of the main culprits contributing to rising morbidity have been decades in the making.

To determine the fastest growing causes of death, 24/7 Tempo reviewed data on mortality rate for 113 selected causes of death from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Major causes of death were ranked based on the change in crude mortality rate – annual deaths per 100,000 Americans – from 2018 to 2021.

Hospitals were overburdened during the COVID-19 pandemic, and posed risks of their own to patients looking to avoid contracting the virus. According to one CDC estimate, by July 2020 41% of U.S. adults had delayed or avoided medical care due to concerns about COVID-19. As a result, patients with life-threatening conditions like heart attack or stroke may have forgone necessary treatment, increasing overall morbidity for non-COVID disease. So while the coronavirus caused the largest shock to U.S. mortality, deaths due to cardiovascular disease also skyrocketed, with over 62,000 more Americans dying of heart disease in 2021 than in 2018.

Lockdowns and social distancing during the COVID-19 may also be associated with increasing mortality among several causes of death. More than one in seven Americans, for example, rely on food banks and pantries in some capacity. As COVID-19 lockdowns cut off access to critical food assistance networks, malnutrition claimed a record number of American lives, and became one of the fastest growing causes of death.

Similarly, reduced access to care as well as isolation may have contributed to the excess mortality of two concurring pandemics – the opioid crisis and alcoholism, which cause so-called “deaths of despair.” According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, sales of alcohol increased by 2.9% in 2020, the largest one-year increase in over 50 years. Deaths due to alcoholic liver disease rose 40.8% from 2018 to 2021 as drug overdose deaths rose 56.1% – together accounting for an increase of nearly 50,000 additional deaths. (These are 25 famous people who drank themselves to death.)

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