Nontraumatic deaths during U.S. Armed Forces basic training, 1977-2001

Am J Prev Med. 2004 Apr;26(3):205-12. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2003.12.003.


Background: A Recruit Mortality Registry, linked to the Department of Defense Medical Mortality Registry, was created to provide comprehensive medical surveillance data for deaths occurring during enlisted basic military training.

Methods: Recruit deaths from 1977 through 2001 were identified and confirmed through redundant sources. Complete demographic, circumstantial, and medical information was sought for each case and recorded on an abstraction form. Mortality rates per 100,000 recruit-years were calculated by using recruit accession data from the Defense Manpower Data Center.

Results: There were 276 recruit deaths from 1977 through 2001 and age-specific recruit mortality rates were less than half of same-age U.S. civilian mortality rates. The majority (72%) of recruit deaths were classified as nontraumatic and 70% of these deaths (139 of 199) were related to exercise. Of the exercise-related deaths, 59 (42%) were cardiac deaths, and heat stress was a primary or contributory cause in at least 46 (33%). Infectious agents accounted for only 49 (25%) of the nontraumatic deaths. Nontraumatic death rates increased with age (rate ratio is 2.5 for 25+ v <25 years; p<0.001). The age- and gender-adjusted nontraumatic death rates were 2.6 times higher for African American than non-African American recruits (p<0.001).

Conclusions: Although recruit mortality rates are lower than the same-age U.S. civilian population, preventive measures focused on reducing heat stress during exercise might be effective in decreasing the high proportion of exercise-related death. The availability of 25 years of comprehensive recruit mortality data will permit the ongoing evaluation of cause-of-death trends, effectiveness of preventive measures, and identification of emerging threats during basic military training.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Cause of Death*
  • Death
  • Death, Sudden / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Military Personnel / statistics & numerical data*
  • Mortality / trends*
  • Probability
  • Registries
  • Risk Assessment
  • Sex Distribution
  • United States / epidemiology