Poor Diets, Little Exercise Leading Cause of Preventable Illness and Deaths

Between 1997 and 1999, researchers with the Association of Academic Health Centers updated a 1993 analysis of external (nongenetic) factors that contribute to the leading causes of death in the United States.

Key Findings

  • In a March 10, 2004 editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the researchers commented:

    • In 2000, dietary patterns and sedentary lifestyles represent the most common source of unnecessary death and disease among Americans.
  • In a July 1999 report to RWJF, the researchers noted:

    • At least 40 percent, and possibly 47 percent, of deaths reported in 1996 were attributable to behavior patterns, including diet and activity, tobacco, alcohol, firearms, illicit use of drugs and sexual behavior.
    • Between 1980 and 1992, the number of deaths in the United States caused by infectious diseases increased by more than 75 percent.
    • The firearm death rate for children under age 15 was nearly 16 times higher than the combined rate for 25 other industrialized countries.
    • While the number of Americans who report using illicit drugs has decreased significantly since 1979, the number of new users between the ages of 12 and 26 increased between 1994 and 1996.
    • Drug use, and behavior associated with it, is the single largest factor in the spread of HIV/AIDS in the United States.