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The biggest risks to our life change as we grow and develop. When we’re toddlers, being near water can put us in serious danger, while in middle age, our DNA is more susceptible to damage.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracks the 10 leading causes of death for Americans at every stage of life. The health agency’s data from 2016 reveals that some of the greatest hazards to our young lives include everyday activities like riding in a car, while deadly cancers and heart conditions become more dangerous as our bodies take on more wear and tear.
The list below describes most common causes of death at every age, from dangerous accidents that pose threats when we’re young to diseases that are likely to take our lives when we’re older.
Here’s a map of what to watch out for from age 0 to 65. Notice that most deaths that occur before age 45 are likely to be caused by accidents.
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The single biggest threat to life for people between 1 and 45 is some kind of accident, whether it’s consumption of a toxic chemical or a deadly crash.
But just looking at the leading cause of death for every age group doesn’t tell us the whole story. Suicides are on the rise across the US and have become the second leading cause of death in many age groups.
For that reason, we’ve also included the second leading cause of death for each age group in the categories below.
The biggest risk to newborns’ nascent lives, from birth to their first birthday, is birth defects.
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In the US, one in every 33 babies is born with a birth defect, according to the CDC.
These development issues include critical and potentially deadly malformations of the heart or brain, as well as milder ones like a smaller-than-usual ear or a misshapen foot.
Most birth defects crop up during the first three months of pregnancy, when the organs of a fetus are beginning to form. But some abnormalities can go undetected until months later. Many issues like hearing loss or heart problems can’t be diagnosed until after a baby is born.
Factors like family history, the health of the mother, use of medications, and consumption of alcohol or drugs can all have some effect on birth defects. But the reasons that some babies are born with potentially devastating or deadly health problems are still not completely understood.
The second leading cause of death for babies from 0 to 1 is premature birth.
From ages 1 to 4, babies, toddlers, and their caregivers should be extra cautious around water.
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The CDC estimates that every day in the US, two children under the age of 15 die from unintentional drowning. Babies can drown in just a single inch of water, according to the Mayo Clinic.
“A curious toddler can fall into a toilet, bucket, or fish tank,” the clinic’s website says.
New parents should consider toilet locks, keep the bathroom door closed, and always supervise bath time.
The second leading cause of death among children between 1 and 4 is birth defects.
For a person between 5 and 24, car crashes pose the greatest threat to their life.
As kids begin to grow up and head off to school, motor vehicle crashes become one of the greatest dangers they face.
More than 2,800 teens died in car crashes in 2016, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The threat of a deadly crash increases when teenagers and start driving themselves around, and drivers who are just learning face the highest risk. The rate of fatal crashes per mile driven is nearly twice as high for 16- and 17-year-olds as it is for teens who are 18 or 19 and have a bit more experience behind the wheel.
The second leading cause of death among kids from 5 to 9 is cancer, while for young people from 10 to 24 it’s suicide.
For people between 25 and 44, the leading cause of death shifts from car crashes to accidental poisoning.
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The most common unintentional poisoning deaths are caused by drugs, both prescription and illegal.
Poisoning deaths from painkillers like heroin and synthetic opioids have risen sharply since 2010, according to CDC data, and cocaine-overdose deaths are also on the rise.
But drugs aren’t the only way that people can die by poisoning. Alcohol and household chemicals like pesticides or bleach contribute to poisoning deaths every year.
Another dangerous poison is one you can’t see or smell. Carbon monoxide can waft from gas furnaces, fridges, cars, and other appliances at deadly levels if a home is not well-ventilated.
The winter season, when doors are sealed and windows are shut, is the most dangerous time of year for carbon-monoxide poisoning in US homes. More than one-third of carbon-monoxide-poisoning deaths occur between December and February every year, according to the CDC.
The second leading cause of death for people between 25 and 34 is suicide, while for those from 35 to 44 years old it’s cancer.
From ages 45 to 64, as our cells age and DNA gets damaged, cancer becomes the greatest risk to our lives.
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Cancer is the No. 2 cause of death overall in the US. For middle-aged people, it’s the most common way to die.
The class of deadly diseases fundamentally changes the way our bodies work. Toxic cells divide, grow into unruly tumors, and spread into essential organs. Cancers can cut off oxygen supply to the lungs, cause internal bleeding that leads to fatal strokes, or deprive the body of essential nutrients, making it more prone to infection.
Some cases of cancer are out of our control – they can be determined by genetic defects and predispositions passed down through generations, or by genetic changes we undergo through our lifetime. Other kinds of cancer crop up when we’re exposed to toxins during our lives, including smoke, UV rays, pollution, weed killers, and even alcohol.
The second leading cause of death for people from 45 to 64 years old is heart disease.
For people age 65 and older, heart disease (sometimes called the silent killer) becomes a bigger threat than cancer.
As we age into our 60s, heart disease begins to take its toll.
By this time, plaques on the walls of our arteries have had decades to build up. They can make it harder for blood to flow freely through the body, reduce the flow of fresh oxygen to cells in our brain or heart, and lead to deadly clots.
It can be difficult to see outward signs of pressure building up in a person’s blood vessels until it’s too late. At that point, people can experience a heart attack, stroke, or heart failure.
That’s why many people call hypertension the silent killer. In 2013, the problem contributed to more than 1,000 deaths in the US every day, according to the CDC.
If you’re worried about your blood pressure, there are a few simple things you can do to help lower it, such as reducing stress, getting enough physical activity, slimming down, and slashing extra salt from your diet can help.
The second leading cause of death after age 65 is cancer.
Average life expectancy in the US is now 78.6 years.
In 1960, Americans had the longest life expectancy of any country in the world.
But the US has since plummeted to the bottom of the life-expectancy list relative to other countries with similar gross domestic product and average income.
The average life expectancy for Americans is now shorter than it is for Japanese people, Canadians, Germans, UK residents, and people in seven other countries, according to data compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Life expectancy in the US is 78.6 years, about two years longer than it is in China. But last month, China boasted that its healthy life expectancy, which measures the number of years a person can expect to live relatively illness- and injury-free, was higher than it is in the US for the first time in recorded history. Chinese people can now expect to spend an average of 10 more weeks healthy and disease-free than Americans can.
Things aren’t expected to get better in the coming years. Scientists predict that Americans will have the lowest life expectancy of any high-income country by 2030, at just shy of 80 years. Meanwhile, life expectancies in other wealthy countries like South Korea are expected to rise above 90 years.