The concept of years of potential life lost (YPLL) involves estimating the average time a person would have lived had he or she not died prematurely. This measure is used to help quantify social and economic loss owing to premature death, and it has been promoted to emphasize specific causes of death affecting younger age groups. YPLL inherently incorporates age at death, and its calculation mathematically weights the total deaths by applying values to death at each age. The method of calculating YPLL varies from author to author, each producing different rankings of leading causes of premature death. One can choose between heart disease, cancer, or accidents as the leading cause of premature death, depending on which method is used. Confusion in the use of this measure stems from a misunderstanding of the value system inherent in the calculation, as well as from differing views as to values that should be applied to each age at death.