How to measure premature mortality? A proposal combining "relative" and "absolute" approaches

Stefano Mazzuco, Marc Suhrcke, Lucia Zanotto

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BACKGROUND: The concept of "premature mortality" is at the heart of many national and global health measurement and benchmarking efforts. However, despite the intuitive appeal of its underlying concept, it is far from obvious how to best operationalise it. The previous work offers at least two basic approaches: an absolute and a relative one. The former-and far more widely used- approach sets a unique age threshold (e.g. 65 years), below which deaths are defined as premature. The relative approach derives the share of premature deaths from the country-specific age distribution of deaths in the country of interest. The biggest disadvantage of the absolute approach is that of using a unique, arbitrary threshold for different mortality patterns, while the main disadvantage of the relative approach is that its estimate of premature mortality strongly depends on how the senescent deaths distribution is defined in each country.

METHOD: We propose to overcome some of the downsides of the existing approaches, by combining features of both, using a hierarchical model, in which senescent deaths distribution is held constant for each country as a pivotal quantity and the premature mortality distribution is allowed to vary across countries. In this way, premature mortality estimates become more comparable across countries with similar characteristics.

RESULTS: The proposed hierarchical models provide results, which appear to align with related evidence from specific countries. In particular, we find a relatively high premature mortality for the United States and Denmark.

CONCLUSIONS: While our hybrid approach overcomes some of the problems of previous measures, some issues require further research, in particular the choice of the group of countries that a given country is assigned to and the choice of the benchmarks within the groups. Hence, our proposed method, combined with further study addressing these issues, could provide a valid alternative way to measure and compare premature mortality across countries.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalPopulation Health Metrics
Issue number41
Publication statusPublished - 26 Oct 2021

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© 2021. The Author(s).

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