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Death among children and adolescents

Alternative Names

Childhood and adolescent causes of death


Accidents are, by far, the leading cause of death among children and adolescents.


0-1 years:

  • Developmental and genetic conditions that were present at birth
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS )
  • All conditions associated with prematurity and low birth weight

1-4 years:

  • Accidents
  • Developmental and genetic conditions that were present at birth
  • Cancer

5-14 years:

  • Accidents
  • Cancer
  • Developmental and genetic conditions that were present at birth

15-24 years:

There are almost twice as many deaths in the first year of life than there are in the next 13 years total. Then, the death rate rises rapidly following puberty because of the large number of deadly accidents, homicides, and suicides in the 15-24 year age group. These three causes of death in teens should all be preventable.

What is preventable?


Some birth defects cannot be prevented. However, some problems may be diagnosed during pregnancy. Such conditions, when recognized, may be prevented or treated while the baby is still in the womb or immediately upon birth.

Evaluation may include genetic screening of the parents, parental medical histories and childbearing history, chorionic villus sampling , amniocentesis , and fetal ultrasound .

SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome )

Putting infants on their back to sleep helps reduces the chance of SIDS. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommend that infants be placed on their back for sleeping.


Death due to prematurity frequently results from a lack of prenatal care. If you are pregnant, and not receiving prenatal care, call your health care provider or your state's department of health. Most state health departments have programs that provide prenatal care to mothers, whether or not they have insurance or are able to pay.

Education about the importance of prenatal care should be made available to all sexually active and pregnant teens.


Overall teenage suicide rates in the 1990's were higher than those in the 1980's for all races. It is important to watch teens for signs of stress, depression , and suicidal behavior . Two-way communication between the troubled adolescent and parents or persons of trust is extremely important in preventing adolescent suicide.


Homicide is one of the most disturbing causes of death among children and adolescents. Sociologists feel that the increase of gangs, teenage homicide, teenage suicide, teenage pregnancy , school drop-out, and other problems are a reflection of a rapidly changing society and family structure. Homicide is a complex issue which does not have a simple answer. Prevention will require understanding of the root cause and a willingness on the part of the public to change those causes.


The automobile accounts for the largest number of these accidental deaths. Make sure that all infants and children use the proper child car seats, booster seats, and seat belts.

Other top causes of accidental death are drowning, fire, falls, and poisoning.


Stanton BF, Behrman RE. Overview of pediatrics. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 1.

Updated: 8/1/2012

Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.

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