5 Causes Account for Nearly Half of Child and Teen Deaths

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Five causes of death account for nearly half of all deaths in children and adolescents worldwide, a new report finds.

Globally, there were 7.7 million deaths among children and adolescents in 2013, according to the report.  The vast majority of these deaths — 6.3 million — were in children under age 5. There were about 480,000 deaths among children ages 5 to 9, and 970,000 in children ages 10 to 19.

In 2013, the leading cause of death worldwide among children under 5 was lower respiratory infections (such as pneumonia and bronchitis), which accounted for just over 900,000 deaths, according to the report, published today (Jan. 25) in the journal JAMA. [Top 10 Leading Causes of Death]

The next four leading causes of death in this under-5 age group were preterm birth complications, neonatal encephalopathy following birth trauma and asphyxia, malaria and diarrheal diseases, according to the report.

In older children, the leading cause of death in 2013 was diarrheal diseases, and in adolescents, the leading cause of death was road injuries, the report said.

The authors of the report noted that "half of the world's diarrheal deaths among children and adolescents occurred in just five countries: India, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan, Nigeria and Ethiopia."

The report illustrated the stark differences between the leading causes of death among children and adolescents in developed nations compared with developing countries. For example, in North America, Australia and most of Europe and South America, the leading cause in 2013 in these age groups was congenital anomalies.

In the U.S., the leading cause of death for all children over age 1 is unintentional injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This category includes deaths from car accidents, drownings and unintentional deaths from guns.

Indeed, the authors of the report highlight that the most common causes of death worldwide, including lower respiratory infections and diarrheal diseases, are "largely avoidable" by taking steps to improve air and water quality.

The report also looked at the leading causes of disability among children and adolescents worldwide in 2013. Iron deficiency anemia resulted in the greatest number of "years lived with disability" for children and adolescents in all age groups. India, China and Nigeria — all of which have large populations of children and adolescents — contributed the largest number of cases of iron deficiency anemia, although the prevalence of anemia was highest in Afghanistan, according to the report.

The second leading cause of disability was skin diseases, though the specific type of skin disease varied among age groups. Younger and older children were most commonly affected by viral skin diseases, while adolescents were most commonly affected by acne, according to the report.

The third leading cause of disability was depressive disorders. These were much more common in adolescents than in younger and older children, the report found.

The authors of the report cautioned that were some limitations to the study; specifically, many countries did not have exact records of causes of death.

Follow Sara G. Miller on Twitter @SaraGMiller. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Originally published on Live Science.

Sara G. Miller
Staff Writer
Sara is a staff writer for Live Science, covering health. She grew up outside of Philadelphia and studied biology at Hamilton College in upstate New York. When she's not writing, she can be found at the library, checking out a big stack of books.