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Personal Decisions Are the Leading Cause of Death


  • Ralph L. Keeney

    () (The Fuqua School of Business, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina 27708)


This paper analyzes the relationships between personal decisions and premature deaths in the United States. The analysis indicates that over one million of the 2.4 million deaths in 2000 can be attributed to personal decisions and could have been avoided if readily available alternative choices were made. Separate analyses indicate 46% of deaths due to heart disease and 66% of cancer deaths are attributable to personal decisions, about 55% of all deaths for ages 15--64 are attributable to personal decisions, and over 94% of the deaths attributable to personal decisions result in the death of the individual making the decisions. Relative to the current 45%, retrospective appraisal suggests that roughly 5% of deaths in 1900 and 20%--25% of deaths in 1950 could be attributed to personal decisions. These results suggest that more effort directed toward improving personal choices regarding life risks may be an effective and economical way to save lives.

Suggested Citation

  • Ralph L. Keeney, 2008. "Personal Decisions Are the Leading Cause of Death," Operations Research, INFORMS, vol. 56(6), pages 1335-1347, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:inm:oropre:v:56:y:2008:i:6:p:1335-1347
    DOI: 10.1287/opre.1080.0588

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    Cited by:

    1. Diana W. Thomas, 2019. "Regressive effects of regulation," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 180(1), pages 1-10, July.
    2. Joel Goh & Jeffrey Pfeffer & Stefanos A. Zenios, 2016. "The Relationship Between Workplace Stressors and Mortality and Health Costs in the United States," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 62(2), pages 608-628, February.
    3. Strulik, Holger, 2018. "I shouldn't eat this donut: Self-control, body weight, and health in a life cycle model," Center for European, Governance and Economic Development Research Discussion Papers 360, University of Goettingen, Department of Economics.


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