The effect of a reduction in leading causes of death: potential gains in life expectancy

Am J Public Health. 1978 Oct;68(10):966-71. doi: 10.2105/ajph.68.10.966.


The potential gains in total expectation of life and in the working life ages among the United States population are examined when the three leading causes of death are totally or partially eliminated. The impressive gains theoretically achieved by total elimination do not hold up under the more realistic assumption of partial elimination or reduction. The number of years gained by a new-born child, with a 30 per cent reduction in major cardiovascular diseases would be 1.98 years, for malignant neoplasms 0.71 years, and for motor vehicle accidents 0.21 years. Application of the same reduction to the working ages, 15 to 70 years, results in a gain of 0.43, 0.26, and 0.14 years, respectively for the three leading causes of death. Even with a scientific break-through in combating these causes of death, it appears that future gains in life expectancies for the working ages will not be spectacular. The implication of the results in relation to the current debate on the national health care policy is noted.

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / mortality
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Expectancy*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mortality*
  • Neoplasms / mortality
  • Probability
  • United States