What is the leading cause of death? An interesting perspective

If you ask most educated people what the leading causes of death is in New Zealand or any other developed country, they will tell you without having to think: heart disease. (You can confirm this by looking at the Ministry of Health's website: the top cause of death for all people (Maori and non-Maori, men and women) is ischaemic heart disease.)

It's an important thing to keep in mind. In this world where it's very easy to be afraid of being hit by a car, or being in a plane accident, it's things like heart disease and stroke that should terrify us. 

They should terrify us in the sense that they drive us to action - to take steps to reduce the likelihood that this might be our premature fate. Of course, we can't guarantee that these things won't befall us; part of it comes down to luck, and ageing is a big part of the equation - in most cases, age is the biggest risk factor, and the longer we live, the more at risk we are. 

If we can take steps to reduce the likelihood of dying from heart disease, this raises an interesting question. Which brings me to a provocative paper by Dr Ralph L. Keeney of Duke University. In this paper he suggests that Personal Decisions Are the Leading Cause of Death

In the introduction, Dr Keeney explains:

"This paper investigates a different framing of the major causes of death in America. With this frame, the major cause of death is not heart disease or cancer, nor is it smoking or being overweight. The leading cause of death is personal decision making".

So: is heart disease the real cause of death, or is heart disease a result of the personal decisions we make over the course of our lifetime?

Sonnie Bailey

Sonnie is the founder and principal of Fairhaven Wealth.

Before founding Fairhaven Wealth, Sonnie worked in the legal and financial services industries for over a decade.

Sonnie first became involved with financial advice as a specialist financial services lawyer. For many years, he was an “adviser of advisers”, reviewing thousands of advice files prepared by hundreds of financial advisers, and providing feedback in relation to the quality and appropriateness of advice; industry best practice; risk management; and regulatory compliance. He has published work in industry publications and spoken at various financial advice conferences.

Sonnie has also worked with banks, investment management firms, insurers, and derivatives providers.

Sonnie has worked as a private client lawyer, focusing on succession, estate planning and trusts. He ran his own legal firm in Australia before relocating to New Zealand. He has also acted in independent trustee and company director positions.

Sonnie is passionate about helping people achieve their goals and manage the risks to which they are exposed.

He has written extensively on his blog, New Zealand Wealth and Risk, which can be found at www.wealthandrisk.nz.

Sonnie is married to his wonderful wife Chrissy, and has two young children, Ben and Anna.