Background: Epidemiological transition theory is based on a succession of specific “patterns” of causes of death in human societies. However, the reality and consistency of patterns of causes of death in a population at a given moment has never been formally and statistically evaluated.
Methods: Correlation analyses and principal component analysis were used to explore the correlation between age and sex cause-specific death rates and to identify consistent patterns of mortality in France for two periods: 1968–79 and 1988–99.
Results: Cause-specific death rates in France from 1988 to 1999 were found to be strongly and consistently correlated across space and time. The analysis outlines four specific patterns: mortality of 45–84-year olds, mostly by neoplasms, cardiovascular and digestive diseases; mortality of the oldest old (>84 years); mortality of 25–64-year-old men, notably by HIV infection; and mortality by injury and poisoning of 15–44-year olds. These patterns, which cover 96% of the total mortality during the period, differ from those for the period 1968–79 when respiratory diseases and conditions affecting children aged <1 year shaped mortality. They also differ substantially from those predicted by classical epidemiological transition theory.
Conclusion: This study provides evidence for an evolutionary structure of patterns of mortality in contemporary France and therefore suggests using the concept of epidemiological transition in a less simplistic way than is commonly the case. It also shows much stronger interrelationships between diseases leading to death than is usually believed and suggests that current categorisations of cause-specific mortality in populations need reconsideration.
- ICD, International Classification of Diseases
- PCA, principal component analysis
- WHO, World Health Organization
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Competing interests: None.