Premature Life Loss


Premature death is defined as any death to a person 70 years of age or younger. Examining premature life loss and its causes focuses attention on deaths that could have been prevented. A better understanding of potentially preventable deaths in the District can guide efforts to prevent premature deaths in our city.

In 2016, there were 2,350 premature deaths among all DC residents [1]. The leading cause of premature death was cancer (23%), followed by heart disease (22%), accidents (14%), assaults (5%), and HIV (3%). Premature deaths due to stroke and diabetes each accounted for 3% of premature deaths [1]. Chronic lower respiratory diseases, conditions originating during the perinatal period, and chronic liver disease and cirrhosis each accounted for 2% of premature deaths in DC [1]. Nationally, the five leading causes of premature life loss were accidents, cancer, heart disease, suicide, and perinatal deaths [2].

Death in old age is inevitable, but death before old age is not.
ā€” Sir Richard Doll, Epidemiologist

Premature life loss impacts certain populations in the District disproportionately. Sixty-one percent of premature deaths were among males and a majority of premature deaths in 2016 were among non-Hispanic Black DC residents (86%). For those aged 15-19 and 20-24, assaults were the leading cause of early death (71% and 48%, respectively) [1].

Data Resources and Citations

1. DC Health. Center for Policy, Planning and Evaluation, Vital Records Division, 2016.

2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Leading Causes of Death. 2017.