The Leading cause of Death in Young Adults

The causes of death among people ages 15 to 24 in the United States are either largely preventable or congenital. Regardless of this, far too many young people die prematurely. These are the top causes of death for people in the ages where they are in high school, college, or entering the workforce. See how each cause may be prevented.1


Two cars involved in a car accident
Reza Estakhrian/Getty Images 

Accidents account for 41 percent of deaths among people in the 15 to 24 age group. Motor vehicle accidents alone account almost a quarter of all deaths of these young adults. The good news is that the motor vehicle death rate has been going down in recent years as cars have become safer. To protect yourself, wear your seat belt, drive defensively and avoid risky behaviors that may lead to accidents.2


Suicide accounts for 18 percent of deaths among people of this age group. Sadly, most people who commit suicide feel like it is their only way out of a helpless feeling situation.

However, there are many resources for people with suicidal thoughts. If you are experiencing depression or other mental health issues, seek help. With talk therapy and medications, you can find that life is worth living. In fact, most people who attempt suicide say they regret it. Interviews with 29 people who survived a suicide attempt jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge say they regretted the decision the moment they jumped.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) right away. This free hotline is available 24 hours a day.3


Sixteen percent of deaths among people age 15 to 24 are due to homicide. In 2015, 87 percent of all homicides against people of all age groups in the U.S. were committed with firearms, and gun violence is more common in urban and poor communities.

Unfortunately, you cannot necessarily control where you live or what other people do. However, you can do your best to protect yourself by avoiding dangerous and confrontational situations and seeking help for domestic violence.4

Drugs and Alcohol

Fifteen percent of the deaths of in this age group were induced by drugs or alcohol. Abusing drugs and alcohol may be a rite of passage into adulthood, but it is risky. In addition to the chance of an overdose, it also greatly increases risky sexual behavior and the odds of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Preventing drug and alcohol abuse is the focus of many programs, both aimed at encouraging parents to discuss these issues with their kids and peers to influence each other.5


Cancer deaths account for 5 percent of deaths among the 15 to 24 age group. Unfortunately, there is no proven way to prevent cancer, and this percentage includes many childhood cancers that are not preventable.​6

Heart Disease

Three percent of people who die when they are 15 to 24 die of heart disease. Exercise and a healthy diet can help to prevent and reverse heart disease, however, many young people who die of heart disease were born with it.7

Congenital Conditions

Congenital illnesses, some inherited from parents, such as cystic fibrosis or maternally-transmitted HIV, account for 1.5 percent of deaths among this age group. A healthy pregnancy can help prevent many of these conditions.​8

Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease

Chronic lower respiratory disease accounts for 0.7 percent of deaths in this age group. Reduce your risk by not smoking or quitting smoking.9


While most people think of strokes as only occurring in older adults, they can occur in anyone at any age. Stroke is responsible for 0.6 percent of deaths among people ages 15 to 24.​

Exercise, not smoking, and having a healthy diet can help prevent stroke. However, the cause of stroke in this age group is often due to inherited disorders rather than sequelae of chronic vascular disease as in older adults.10

Flu and Pneumonia

You may not think that the flu or pneumonia is very dangerous if you are in your teens or early twenties, but 0.6 percent of deaths in the 15 to 24 age group are attributable to flu and pneumonia—184 deaths in a year. This number can rise dramatically in a year with pandemic flu.

Get a flu vaccine every year and wash your hands regularly. Be sure to talk with your doctor about extra precautions to take if you have a compromised immune system due to illness or other reasons.