Study Finds Global Adolescent Death Rates Exceed Rates For Child, Infant Deaths

A study published on Tuesday in the Lancet found that in a reversal of historical trends, “death rates among adolescents are now higher than in children,” Reuters reports.

“Looking at data from 50 countries over the second half of the 20th century, the study found the majority of deaths in young people was through incidents such as car accidents or reckless behavior – and that violence and suicide have also become key causes of death in this group,” the news service writes (Kelland, 3/29).

For the study, researchers used the WHO mortality database to look at patterns of mortality according to cause of death, age group and sex. They calculated death rate averages over three five-year periods, a press release states. “Findings showed that in the 1950s, mortality in the 1 year age-group greatly exceeded that of all other age-groups in all regions studied. But in the 50 years up to 2004, death rates in children aged 1 declined by 80% mostly due to reductions in deaths from infectious disease,” the release notes. “In contrast, reductions in mortality in young people aged 15 years were only about half that in children, largely because of increases in injury-related deaths, particularly in young men. Indeed, by the start of the 21st century, injuries were responsible for 70% of all deaths in young men aged 10 years in all regions studied” (3/28). 

The findings “partly reflect success in reducing death rates among very young children, the researchers said,” Reuters reports. According to the researchers, international efforts focused on reducing infant and child mortality have not been matched in older age groups. “These trends are likely to continue because mortality in children younger than five years is expected to decline further, and injury-related mortality is expected to increase in the next 25 years,” said Russell Viner of the University College London, who led the study (3/29).

“Modern life is much more toxic for teenagers and young people,” Viner said, the BBC reports. “We’ve had rises in road traffic accidents, rises in violence, rises in suicide which we don’t see in young children. The teenage years were the healthiest time of our life. It’s no longer true” (Bowdler, 3/29).

The KFF Daily Global Health Policy Report summarized news and information on global health policy from hundreds of sources, from May 2009 through December 2020. All summaries are archived and available via search.

KFF Headquarters: 185 Berry St., Suite 2000, San Francisco, CA 94107 | Phone 650-854-9400
Washington Offices and Barbara Jordan Conference Center: 1330 G Street, NW, Washington, DC 20005 | Phone 202-347-5270 | Email Alerts: | |

The independent source for health policy research, polling, and news, KFF is a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, California.