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District Releases First Ever Preventable Causes of Death Report

Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Report links residents’ behavior to deaths that could otherwise have been prevented.

Washington, DC – As part of the District of Columbia Department of Health’s (DOH) ongoing efforts to improve the health and quality of life of District residents, DOH released the first report that outlines the top preventable causes of death for the District. Preventable Risk Factors Attributed to Preventable Causes of Death in the District of Columbia, 2007 (The Report) uses formulas, previously applied only to national and state data, to local health data for District residents.

The District is the first city and third state level jurisdiction to put together a preventable cause of death report based on residential data. The preventable causes of death outlined in The Report made up 49.5% of all deaths in the District in 2007. “Information like this is the key to residents making smart decisions about their health,” said District of Columbia Mayor Adrian M. Fenty. “This report illustrates clearly how much we have to do to help people live healthier lives, because the choices we make can have serious impact on our health."

Top Preventable Causes of Death in the District of Columbia in 2007 and Percent of Overall Deaths

  1. Tobacco - 16.6%
  2. Poor diet and physical inactivity - 15.1%
  3. Microbial (infectious) agents – 4.6%
  4. Alcohol consumption – 2.9%
  5. Firearms – 2.7%
  6. Medical errors – 2.7%
  7. Toxic agents – 2.1%
  8. Sexual behavior – 0.8%
  9. Illicit drugs – 0.8%
  10. Motor vehicles – 0.6%
  11. Uninsurance – 0.6%

By directly linking residents’ common behaviors such as tobacco use, poor diet and inactivity, to the high rates of premature death that they cause, DOH hopes to help government agencies, policy-makers, and business partners understand where they can play an effective and active role in improving the lives of District residents.  The Report will also show residents that even small changes in daily activities and behavior can make a major difference in how they feel, and how long they will live. For example, the top cause of death for District residents is heart disease followed by cancer; the top preventable cause of death for the District is tobacco use, a behavior closely linked to the development of both heart disease and cancer.

“This Report is for lay people, policy-makers, and health practitioners to use as they work to improve their own health, and the health of those that they serve. Knowing that these causes of death are preventable should be particularly empowering, because knowing that we can take actions to reduce the burden of a disease can give us all hope, ” said DOH Director Dr. Pierre Vigilance “We encourage people to use this report to impact health at the individual, community, and institutional levels, and to make decisions that improve our collective health and wellness.”

The Report is one part of the District’s Live Well DC program. Live Well DC is an interagency effort led by the DOH to create a holistic approach to health and wellness for the District. Live Well DC works to target individual behaviors that result in poor health outcomes by creating a culture of wellness that facilitates healthy behaviors and improve health outcomes across the District. DOH will continue to release data and information through reports and public education campaigns throughout 2010 as part of Live Well DC. To read The Report in its entirety, select 2007 Preventable Causes of Death Report.