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1384.6 - Statistics - Tasmania, 2002  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 13/09/2002   
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Feature Article - Causes of death in Tasmania since 1900

OVERVIEW

In 1900, the main recorded cause of death for Tasmanians was old age, accounting for 13.2% of deaths, followed by diseases of the circulatory system (12.8%), diseases of the nervous system (11.7%), diseases of the respiratory system (9.3%), tuberculosis (8.4%) and diseases of the digestive system (6.7%). Accidents (excluding motor vehicle accidents, suicide and homicide) accounted for 5.5% and at this time, cancer accounted for only 4.9% of all Tasmanian deaths.

By 1925, diseases of the circulatory system and diseases of the respiratory system had emerged as main causes of Tasmanian deaths, accounting for 15.5% and 10.6% respectively, followed by cancer (10.2%). Tuberculosis fell to 6.9% while old age was responsible for 8.2% of total deaths.

By 1950, diseases of the circulatory system had increased by 125.3% to be the main cause of death, accounting for 34.9% of all deaths, followed by malignant neoplasms which now accounted for 13.1% of all deaths. The third highest major cause of death was cerebrovascular disease, accounting for 10.8% of all Tasmanian deaths (figures for diseases of the circulatory system for 1900, 1925 and 1950 do not include cerebrovascular disease).

A similar pattern followed for 1975, with diseases of the circulatory system now accounting for 52.9% of all deaths. Heart disease accounted for 67.3% of this figure, while cerebrovascular disease accounted for 25.2%. Malignant neoplasms now accounted for 16.4% of all deaths. Motor vehicle accidents (including both traffic and non-traffic accidents) at this time accounted for 3.8% of all deaths. Diseases of the respiratory system as a main cause of death had been declining since 1925. It now accounted for just 7.5% of all Tasmanian deaths.

While diseases of the circulatory system remained Tasmania’s leading cause of death in 1997 (1,614 deaths), this was 152 fewer than the number in 1975. As a proportion of total deaths, diseases of the circulatory system accounted for 42.4%, with 68.2% of these attributable to heart disease and 22.6% to cerebrovascular disease.

Since 1975, the number of deaths due to malignant neoplasms increased from 546 (16.4%) in 1975 to 1,058 (27.3%) in 2001.

In 2001, the number of deaths attributable to diseases of the respiratory system accounted for 8.9% of all Tasmanian deaths. External causes of morbidity and mortality accounted for 6.3% of all deaths. This includes suicides which accounted for 1.6% of all deaths and transport accidents which accounted for 1.4% of deaths.

MALE AND FEMALE COMPARISONS

In 1900, while old age was the main cause of death for males (15.1% of all male deaths), it was diseases of the nervous system at 13.6% that was the primary cause of death for females. Diseases of the nervous system was the third ranked cause of male deaths at 10.3% of all deaths. Diseases of the circulatory system was the second ranked cause of death for both sexes.

By 1925, diseases of the circulatory system had become the main cause of death for males and females. While in 1900, females had a higher proportion of deaths attributed to diseases of the circulatory system than males, by 1925 the situation was reversed. In 1925, 17.0% of Tasmanian male deaths related to diseases of the circulatory system compared with 13.7% of female deaths.

Diseases of the nervous system remained a significant cause of death for females in 1925, accounting for 11.6% of deaths. However for males, diseases of the nervous system failed to rank in the top five leading causes of death, although the total number of male deaths (111) exceeded the number of female deaths (106).

Diseases of the respiratory system remained a significant cause of death for males (11.2%) and for females (9.8%). 1925 also saw the emergence of malignant neoplasms as a significant cause of death, approximately double the proportion of deaths in 1900 at 10.5% for males and 9.8% for females.

The period between 1925 and 1950 saw the emergence of diseases of the circulatory system as the primary cause of death for both males and females. In 1950, 36.3% of male deaths and 33.2% of female deaths were attributed to this cause (479 recorded male deaths in 1950 compared to 184 in 1925, and 381 female deaths in 1950 compared to 125 in 1925). Malignant neoplasms continued to grow as a significant cause of death, increasing to 14.3% of all female deaths and 12.1% of male deaths.

The previously significant diseases of the nervous system disappeared as a major cause of female deaths by 1950, although the number of female deaths in 1950 (169) was higher than that recorded in 1925 (106). Diseases of the respiratory system also declined in importance, accounting for 8.8% of male and 7.8% of female deaths in 1950.

By 1975, diseases of the circulatory system were responsible for the majority of all female deaths (56.9%). While proportionately more females died of diseases of the circulatory system, males also followed the trend with 49.6% of all male deaths attributed to this cause in 1975. The number of male deaths (918) however, exceeded the number of female deaths (848).

As a percentage of all deaths, malignant neoplasms marginally increased for both males and females in the period 1950 to 1975. The proportion of males dying from respiratory diseases in 1975 changed little from the 1950 level; however, the number of recorded male deaths in 1975 (165) was higher than that recorded in 1950 (116). For females the proportion of deaths declined from 7.8% to 5.6% (89 recorded deaths in 1950 and 84 recorded deaths in 1975).

At the beginning of the century, diseases of the circulatory system were the primary cause of death of Tasmanians. The proportion of deaths due to diseases of the circulatory system for females (40.7%) exceeded that of males, (35.9%) in 2001 and was significantly lower than 1975 levels. The recorded number of female deaths in 1975 from diseases of the circulatory system was 56.9%, while it was 49.6% for males.

With improvements in treatment, education and awareness of risk factors associated with heart disease all contributing to the relative decline in the proportion of diseases of the circulatory system, malignant neoplasms significantly increased as a cause of death. In 2001, malignant neoplasms accounted for 29.2% of all male deaths and 25.4% of female deaths. Respiratory diseases remained the third ranked cause of death at 9.7% for males and 8.1% for females.


Note: The classifications used to determine cause of death have changed over time. Descriptions of cause of death used in this article are based on classifications used at the respective dates.

For the 1975 and 2001 figures, disease of the circulatory system includes both heart disease and cerebrovascular disease.  Figures for diseases of the circulatory system for 1900, 1925 and 1950 do not include cerebrovascular disease.


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