What’s the No. 1 killer of Americans?

Updated 3:56 PM EDT, Thu June 30, 2016
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Story highlights

Heart disease and cancer are the top two killers of Americans

The death rate declined 1% for 2014, the CDC reports

The infant mortality rate is down 2.3%

(CNN) —  

The leading causes of death remained the same from the year before: Heart disease is the No. 1 killer, followed by cancer, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and infant mortality decreased 2.3%.

But there is good news among the CDC’s grim statistics. The American death and infant mortality rates have hit a record low. Adult deaths for 2014 declined 1%. And life expectancy increased for black men, Hispanics and non-Hispanic black men, according to the report.

The bad news: Life expectancy decreased for non-Hispanic white women.

Next, in order of deadliness, are chronic lower respiratory diseases such as emphysema, accidents such as car accidents and drug overdoses, stroke, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, the flu and pneumonia, kidney disease, suicide, septicemia, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, hypertension, Parkinson’s and lung diseases caused by external agents.

The rankings have changed little over the years. In 2013, Alzheimer’s deaths surpassed diabetes, swapping places on the list. In 2009, the 15th leading killer was homicide, but from 2010 on, it became lung diseases caused by external agents.

The rankings for infant deaths also stayed the same. They are, in order: congenital malformations, low birth weight, maternal complications, SIDS, accidents, cord and placental complications, sepsis, respiratory distress, circulatory system diseases and neonatal hemorrhage.

The CDC has published cause-of-death data since 1952, using it to track trends. The goal is that the data can be used to guide policy and prevention efforts; knowing that Americans die most from heart disease, for example, the government can emphasize programs to help people quit smoking or lose weight.

Over the years, the data have shown a significant decrease in deaths from heart problems and cancer. Fewer people smoke, and medications have improved. There has been a significant increase in deaths from unintentional injuries, stroke, suicide, chronic liver disease, cirrhosis and Alzheimer’s.

The leading cause of injury-related deaths in 2014 was unintentional poisoning. This broad category includes both someone who accidentally swallowed poison and someone who overdosed on drugs. Traffic accidents came in second.

Women still outlive men in the United States by about 4.8 years, but that gap has narrowed. In 1979, the difference was 7.8 years.

There are still racial differences in death rates. Adjusted for age, the death rate was 1.2 times greater for non-Hispanic black population than for non-Hispanic white people.

The new report shows progress when it comes to HIV/AIDS, which fell from sixth to eighth among the leading causes of death for men ages 25 to 34. HIV ranks sixth among black men in that age group and seventh among Asian/Pacific Islander men and Hispanic men in that age group.

HIV doesn’t even make the top 10 causes of death for white men in this age group.

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Keep in mind, the rankings are limited. The report itself points out that lung cancer is not separated from other cancers. If it were, lung cancer would rank third.

Hospital errors/infections also are missing from the list. A study this year estimated that the number of people who die from medical facility errors and infections make those problems the third leading killer of Americans.