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Life Expectancy & leading causes of death 

Two key measures of health in our community are how long we live and the quality of life we experience during those years. Life expectancy tells us how long a typical person is expected to live when they are born. Communities that have more opportunities for health will generally have a longer life expectancy. 


Among California residents, women generally live longer than men, and Asian females have a substantially higher life expectancy than all other groups. Black men continue to have a substantially lower life expectancy than other groups.  

For a two-year period starting in 2020, all population groups experienced a dramatic decline in life expectancy due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The years of life lost from the virus disproportionately affected low-income people and people of color, further widening the life expectancy gap.

LIFE Expectancy TREnds in SLO County, by gender
Life Expectancy Trends iN CA, by Race/Ethnicity and Gender

Leading Causes of death

Understanding the impact of disease on our state and community is key to identifying and addressing barriers to health. Data on leading causes of death are used to monitor trends, recognize emerging challenges, track the effectiveness of interventions, and make public health decisions that improve and save lives.

Leading Causes of Deaths IN slo cOUNTY (#)
Source: CA Department of Public Health. California Community Burden of Disease Engine. Accessed July 2023.
Years of Life Lost (yll) in SLO County, 2022

The total number of deaths from specific causes assigns the same weight to a death at age 80 as it does at age 30 or even at 1 year of age. By contrast, years of life lost (YLL) is a measure of premature mortality that takes into account both the frequency of deaths and the age at which it occurs.  Looking at the data in this way helps organizations make policy and prioritization decisions about areas to focus education and prevention.

Trends in selected indicators

The CA Department of Public Health also monitors trends in selected indicators in their annual County Health Status Profiles.  These reports highlight data recommended for monitoring by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Healthy People 2030.  Below are some of these indicators, which are shown as 3-year average age-adjusted death rates (per 100,000 population).

How do we compare to our neighbors?

It is also helpful to compare disease and injury in SLO County to other counties in California. This can put trends in context and help us determine whether an issue is regional or larger in scope.


The charts below show the five leading causes of death for different age groups in CA and SLO County. 


In general, the two charts show a progression from multiple causes in the youngest age groups, to injury in the middle age groups, to cardiovascular/cancer/other chronic diseases in the older age groups; in addition to COVID-19 in middle and older age groups in the pandemic period.

Among Californians age 15 to 44, the #1 cause of death is drug overdose, followed by road injuries, homicide and suicide.


Among older adults, multiple cardiovascular conditions and Alzheimer's disease are the leading causes. It is also notable that COVID-19 has become a leading cause of death among older individuals.

Leading Causes of Death across the life course in SLO County, 2017-2022 (#)
SLO Causes of Death Across the Lifespan.PNG
Leading Causes of Death across the life course in California, 2017-2022 (#)
State Leading Causes Across the Lifespan.PNG

"Exposures early on in life have life-long impacts on the life course trajectory of the individual, the family, and the community ... So we have to realize, for example, when you're seeing mental illness and people who are 20 or 30 years old, the exposures, the risk factors that could be the determinants of that started earlier in life."

- Dr. Tomás Aragón, State Public Health Officer and Director

California Department of Public Health


Many of the years of life lost noted above result from injuries. Injuries can impact the length and quality of life that we're able to lead. They can result from a variety of causes, including motor vehicle accidents, falls, and other accidents.

In SLO County, deaths from accidents (unintentional injuries) have been on the rise, now accounting for an estimated 54 deaths per 100,000 population. This is greater than the CA average over the same time period (43 deaths per 100,000 population) and the Healthy People 2030 target of 43.2 deaths per 100,000 population.


age-adjusted d
eath rate (per 100,000 people) from accidents (unintentional injuries) in SLO County

age-adjusted d
eath rate (per 100,000 people) from accidents (unintentional injuries) in CA
Falls among older adults

Falls are the leading cause of injuries and injury-related deaths among individuals 65 years old and older. Every year, one in four older adults fall and the frequency of falls increase with a person's age. In San Luis Obispo County, the rate at which emergency medical services (EMS) is called to respond to a fall increases with the fallen person's age. The rates of EMS responding to falls have increased in recent years, especially for individuals 85 years or older. Many people think that falls are an inevitable part of aging, however most falls are preventable at any age.

EMS Response to rate to falls among older adults, by age group
Source: (1) SLO County Emergency Medical Services Agency. Received December 2023. (2) Department of Finance Population Projections. Accessed October 2023.
Vehicle & Pedestrian iNJURIES

The CA Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) established rankings so that cities and counties could compare their traffic safety statistics to those of other cities with similar-sized populations. According to 2020 OTS rankings, out of 58 counties, San Luis Obispo County ranks 39th in the state for the rate of pedestrians who are injured or killed in accidents, and 4th for the number of victims killed or injured in bicycle accidents. (Note: Number 1 in the rankings is the highest, or “worst.” Number 58 in the rankings is the lowest, or "best.")

2020 slo cOUNTY Crash Rankings
Source: CA Office of Traffic Safety. 2020 OTS Crash RankingsAccessed July 2023.

Preventing these injuries requires an understanding of the incidents that lead to them. For that reason, UC Berkeley hosts state and local data on the Transportation Injury Mapping System (TIMS). The site hosts data and mapping analysis tools and information for traffic safety related research, policy and planning.  

(Note: the tool requires the creation of a free account to use.)

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