Leading Cause of Death Among Teens

Michele Meleen
Two teenagers standing beside a casket at a funeral

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over one million teenagers die every year around the world. Many of these deaths are preventable by medical treatment, mental health interventions, or life skills training.

Leading Causes in the U.S.

Car Crash

Accidental deaths are the leading cause of teen mortality in the U.S. and have been for several years according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). About half of these accidents are caused by traffic and motor vehicle injuries for all teens. The CDC's WISQARS™ (Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System) report shows the breakdown of more specific manners of death by age group.

Ages 13 to 14

Adolescents in this age range are most likely to die from motor vehicle accidents or drowning. About 50 percent of these motor vehicle deaths occur when a young teen is the passenger in a car and nearly 25 percent happen when the child is walking says the International Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The second highest cause of death for young teens is suicide, which is carried out about 50 percent of the time by suffocation. Malignant neoplasms, or cancerous tumors, are the third most common cause of death for these young teens.

Ages 15 to 18

Older teens who can drive on their own are just as likely as younger teens to die from motor vehicle accidents. However, the second leading cause of accidental death in older teens is poisoning, which accounts for about 40 percent of their accidents. Suicide is also the second leading cause of death among older teens, but this is done with firearms about 50 percent of the time. The third highest cause of death for these adolescents is homicide, carried out by firearm over 80 percent of the time.

Gender Differences in the U.S.

While motor vehicle accidents are the most common cause of death for teen boys and girls, there are many other mortality differences among genders and ethnicities.

  • Suicide rates have been on the rise among teens for almost two decades says the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). However, boys are nearly four times as likely to commit suicide as girls.
  • The CDC's World Life Expectancy Chart indicates that poisoning is more prevalent in girls than boys while suicides and homicides are much more common for boys.
  • About two-thirds of all teens killed in motor vehicle crashes are boys reports the IIHS.

Differences by State

The Kaiser Family Foundation shares that roughly 50 teens per every 100,000 die each year in the U.S. The states with the highest mortality rates include Alaska, Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.

Leading Causes Around the World

When researchers from WHO looked into the top five causes of death for teens ages 13 to 18 around the world, they found only two common causes between boys and girls.

Males

Road injuries are by far the most common cause of death among boys around the world at 22 per 100,000. Older adolescent boys are most at risk for road injuries from motor vehicle accidents, particularly as pedestrians or bicyclists. Other leading causes of death for boys are interpersonal violence, self-harm, drowning, and lower respiratory infections, in that order.

Females

For girls around the world, the leading cause of death is complications from pregnancy, at 10 per 100,000 followed closely by self-harm. Suicide is most common for older adolescent girls. Because their bodies are experiencing a lot of changes during adolescence, girls can experience physical and emotional difficulties. Other common causes of death are road injury, diarrheal disease, and lower respiratory infections.

Preventable Deaths

Thousands of teenagers die every year around the world from preventable diseases and circumstances. Although these adolescents are seemingly self-sufficient, intervention and vigilance by their caregivers can save their lives.

Leading Cause of Death Among Teens