All-Cause Mortality and Risk to Your Health

"All-cause mortality" is a term used by epidemiologists, or disease-tracking scientists, to refer to death from any cause. You hear it used often in research reports or when news organizations report on the latest study that promotes healthy lifestyle habits.

Young girl holding grandma's hand in hospital
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Understanding All-Cause Mortality

The word "mortality" means death. The term all-cause mortality is utilized in reference to a disease or to harmful exposure—such as radiation or dangerous chemicals—in a statistical context. It is typically expressed as the total number of deaths due to that condition during a specific time period.

Anything that causes death is considered to be a cause of death. Therefore, all-cause mortality is any cause of death.

Risk Factors

While mortality can be random, patterns can often be found that result from particular behaviors. Many longitudinal studies aim to assess which risk factors lead to specific illnesses such as heart disease or cancer. A risk factor is a condition or behavior that is known to increase vulnerability to a particular disease or outcome.

For instance, smoking cigarettes is a major risk factor. That behavior increases your chances of cancer and other serious conditions, which in turn could lead to death.

Other common risk factors include obesity and excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation (which may lead to skin cancer). Both of these behaviors leave an individual much more susceptible to a variety of health issues such as coronary artery disease.

Minimization of Risk Factors

Risk factors can potentially increase the likelihood of mortality. However, most risk factors can also be minimized with a few healthy lifestyle choices.

For instance, certain "good" behaviors are shown to be associated with a lower risk of death caused by any condition, including respiratory disease or infections. These include undertaking a workout routine to get a certain amount of exercise each day and consuming a threshold amount of fiber. Quitting smoking is another example of the minimization of a risk factor.

Not all risk factors are avoidable, however. Age itself is a risk factor. With old age comes an increased likelihood of getting life-threatening diseases such as cancer. These are referred to as age-related diseases. Some risk factors like family history or genetics cannot be controlled either.

However, many conditions related to mortality can be avoided, delayed, or the risk reduced through healthy lifestyle choices. It's the simple things like avoiding smoking, eating well, remaining active, maintaining a healthy weight for your frame, and regularly visiting your healthcare provider that can make a difference.

What This Means for You

At first, it may be difficult for scientists to tease out exactly why certain good habits like maintaining a healthy weight and being active help you avoid a broad range of diseases. Yet, as the evidence builds over time, they can determine which behaviors foster the greatest health and longevity. For this reason, when a study references all-cause mortality, it's a good idea to take notice of the advice given.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • Allen NB, et al. Favorable Cardiovascular Health, Compression of Morbidity, and Healthcare Costs. Circulation. 2017;135:1693-1701. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.116.026252

  • Arnson Y, et al. Impact of Exercise on the Relationship Between CAC Scores and All-Cause Mortality. JACC Cardiovascular Imaging. 2017. pii:S1936-878X(17)30350-9. doi:10.1016/j.jcmg.2016.12.030.

By Sharon Basaraba
Sharon Basaraba is an award-winning reporter and senior scientific communications advisor for Alberta Health Services in Alberta, Canada.