Comparing the Leading Causes of Death from 1900 to Today

Thanks to the advancement of modern medicine, Americans have been able to conquer many of the diseases that once killed many thousands of people in the early 1900s. However, one specific disease is one the leading causes of death today than it was over 100 years ago. Randy Olson, a medical research assistant at Michigan State University, made a chart comparing the common causes of death in 1900 to the common causes today. One big difference today that differs from the 1900s: cancer, which is now a leading cause of death in the United States. Because of the lack of medical technology in the early 1900s, it only accounted for a tiny portion of the deaths that were reported.

Since the New England Journal of Medicine data was released in 2012, a variety of versions of the chart have been published, but Olson’s clearly shows the major differences in deaths from the 1900 time period compared to the present day. As one can imagine, infectious diseases have since gone down, while cancer-caused death reports grew enormously, tripling in proportion.

how we die chart

Chart Author: Randy Olson

Thanks to the advances of technology and modern medicine, doctors are able to more effectively treat diseases that may have caused death back in the early 1900s. Recognizing cancer has become a lot more common these days in comparison to the early 20th century, and unfortunately it isn’t easily treated.

While these statistics may make you melancholy, on a brighter note, cancer mortality rates began decreasing in 1991. And while heart disease is still a prevalent killer, life spans are surely increasing!

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images


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