Analysis: COVID-19 Ranks as a Top 3 Leading Cause of Death in the U.S., Higher than in Almost All Other Peer Countries

A new KFF analysis examines leading causes of death and mortality rates in the United States and comparable countries.

The U.S. has a higher COVID-19 mortality rate than many of its peer countries, with COVID-19 ranking as the nation’s third-leading cause of death in 2020, behind only heart disease and cancer. Among similarly large and wealthy countries, only in Belgium does COVID-19 also rank as the third highest cause of death. COVID-19 ranks fourth in France, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, but much lower in Germany and Austria, where it ranks 17th and 18th respectively.

The analysis compares the number of COVID-19 deaths in each country through October 15th with annual deaths for other conditions in the most recent full year of data, generally 2017. On the heels of a CDC study finding nearly 300,000 excess deaths in the U.S., this KFF analysis looks at excess death data internationally, finding that the per capita rate of excess deaths in the U.S. is among the highest compared to similarly large and wealthy countries.

Prior to the pandemic, the U.S. had the highest overall mortality rate compared to peer countries. The coronavirus will likely widen the gap in mortality rates between the U.S. and its peer countries, both due to the higher number of deaths directly attributed to COVID-19 in the U.S. compared to peer countries, as well as due to causes potentially exacerbated by the pandemic, including delayed or forgone care.

The analysis is available on the Peterson-KFF Health System Tracker, an online information hub dedicated to monitoring and assessing the performance of the U.S. health system.

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, California.