Death among children and adolescents

Also known as: Childhood and adolescent causes of death


Accidents (unintentional injuries) are, by far, the leading cause of death among children and teens.


0 to 1 year:

  • Developmental and genetic conditions that were present at birth
  • Conditions due to premature birth (short gestation)
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)

1 to 4 years:

  • Accidents (unintentional injuries)
  • Developmental and genetic conditions that were present at birth
  • Homicide

5 to 9 years:

  • Accidents (unintentional injuries)
  • Cancer
  • Developmental and genetic conditions that were present at birth

10 to 14 years:

  • Accidents (unintentional injuries)
  • Cancer
  • Suicide

15 to 24 years

  • Accidents (unintentional injuries)
  • Suicide
  • Homicide

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


Some birth defects cannot be prevented. Other problems may be diagnosed during pregnancy. These conditions, when recognized, may be prevented or treated while the baby is still in the womb or right after birth.

Evaluation may include:


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 and Prevention recommend that infants be placed on their back for sleeping.


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

All sexually active and pregnant teens should be educated about the importance of prenatal care.


It is important to watch teens for signs of stress, depression, and suicidal behavior. Open communication between the teen and parents or other persons of trust is very important for preventing teen suicide.


Experts feel that the increase in gangs, teenage homicide, teenage suicide, teenage pregnancy, school drop-outs, and other problems reflect a rapidly changing society and family structure. Homicide is a complex issue that does not have a simple answer. Prevention requires an understanding of the root causes and a willingness of the public to change those causes.


The automobile accounts for the largest number of accidental deaths. All infants and children should use the proper child car seats, booster seats, and seat belts.

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


American Academy of Pediatrics. Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect; Committee on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention: Council on Community Pediatrics. Policy statement - child fatality review. Pediatrics. 2010;126:592-6. PMID: 20805149

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Child Health: mortality. Available at: Accessed August 30, 2014.

Review date:
December 07, 2016
Reviewed by:
Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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