What Does "Premature Death" Mean?

While there is no widespread definition adopted by all demographic researchers, premature death and premature mortality are terms generally referring to a death which occurs prior to the average life expectancy for a given population.  Depending on the standard of public health in a country, the threshold age considered to be "premature" would differ.

For example, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describe a death before the age of 80 as premature in documents such as the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

  In high income nations, death rates for middle-aged adults have declined dramatically since the 1970s, thanks to more people quitting smoking and better survival rates after heart attack and stroke.

Even better for those living in industrialized countries, notes epidemiologist and international public health researcher Prabhat Jha, health promotion strategies including better secondary treatment after a cardiovascular event, more effective diabetes control and anti-smoking campaigns have helped compress morbidity - meaning the onset of many age-related diseases is delayed until a person is older, and they stay healthier, longer.

What about poorer nations?  "Global life expectancy is today 70 years," says Jha, "so an appropriate mark for premature deaths in low and middle income countries should be deaths before age 70."

Jha was one of an international team proposing in The Lancet in 2014 a 40% reduction in global premature deaths by the year 2030 could be achieved through measures such as reducing infant mortality, deaths from communicable diseases such as tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria, and by battling malnutrition and injuries.


Prabhat, Jha. Professor of Epidemiology, University of Toronto Dalla Lana School of Public Health. Correspondence September 29, 2014.

Prabhat Jha, and Richard Peto. "Global Effects of Smoking, of Quitting, and of Taxing Tobacco" N Engl J Med 2014; 370:60-68 January 2, 2014.

Ole F Norheim, Prabhat Jha, Kesetebirhan Admasu, Tore Godal, Ryan J Hum, Margaret E Kruk, Octavio Gómez-Dantés, Colin D Mathers, Hongchao Pan, Jaime Sepúlveda, Wilson Suraweera, Stéphane Verguet, Addis T Woldemariam, Gavin Yamey, Dean T Jamison, Richard Peto. "Avoiding 40% of the Premature Deaths in Each Country 2010–30: Review of National Mortality Trends to Help Quantify the UN Sustainable Development Goal for Health." The Lancet 19 September 2014.

Paula W. Yoon, Brigham Bastian, Robert N. Anderson, Janet L. Collins, Harold W. Jaffe. "Potentially Preventable Deaths from the Five Leading Causes of Death — United States, 2008–2010." Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report May 2, 2014 / 63(17);369-374.

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