Leading Causes of Death

Justice Center, University of Alaska Anchorage. (Fall 2009). "Leading Causes of Death." Alaska Justice Forum 26(3): 7. This article details recent data about leading causes of death for Alaska and the U.S. Diseases of the body, particularly malignant neoplasms (cancer) and heart disease, continue to rank among the leading causes of death for the overall population; however, suicide and homicide rank among the top five causes of death in Alaska for age groups up to age 44.

A look at recent data on leading causes of death in Alaska and the U.S. shows that malignant neoplasms (cancer) and heart disease rank as the top two causes. Although intentional self-harm (suicide) and assault (homicide) do not rank in the U.S. top ten leading causes of death, they have ranked as leading causes of death in Alaska for many years. A comparison of rankings of suicide and homicide as causes of death for specific age groups in Alaska and the U.S. reveals some similarities in trends.

In 2008 in Alaska, suicide was ranked number 6 among the top ten causes of death for the entire population. Suicide has been ranked number 5 or 6 consistently for the past decade. Homicide has been reported as the number 8 cause of death in 1999, number 10 in 2001, and number 10 again in 2007. The rankings for the leading causes of death by specific age group in Alaska show that suicide and homicide are in the top five for each age group up to the age of 44. In Alaska, and the nation as a whole, people aged 15–34 are more likely to die in an accident, at the hands of another, or by suicide, than by cancer or heart disease. For the period 2005–2007, suicide and homicide were the second and third leading causes of death for both 15–24 and 25–34 year olds. Suicide was the second leading cause of death for 35–44 year olds, and homicide was fifth. Among 45–54 year olds, suicide was the fourth leading cause of death.

Nationally, suicide and homicide are not among the ten leading causes of death according to the most current final data available: 2006. However, suicide ranked number 11 in causes of death for the overall population for 2006; homicide ranked 15.

In the U.S. in 2006, homicide and suicide were the second and third leading causes of death, respectively, for 15–24 year olds, while for 25–34 year olds, suicide ranked second and homicide third. Suicide was the fourth leading cause of death for 35–44 year olds, and the fifth leading cause for 45–54 year olds. These rankings mirror those of Alaska for those aged 15–44, where both suicide and assault were in the top five leading causes of death. Suicide was one of the top five causes of death for 45–54 year olds.

This high ranking of suicide as a cause of death for 15–44 year olds is also seen globally. According to the World Health Organization, suicide is among the top three leading causes of death in 15-44 year olds. For the worldwide population, the top two leading causes of death are coronary heart disease, and stroke and other cerebrovascular diseases.

The leading causes of death for the overall population continue to be related to diseases of the body; however, the growing rate of suicide among young people and the suicide rate among other age groups, as well as the rate of homicide, are the focus of national and international study and prevention programs.