Background: The ranking lists used by most countries for leading causes of death (CODs) comprise broad category such as cancer, heart disease, and accidents. To provide more specific information, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) proposed lists that splitting broad categories into specific categories. We examined the changes in rankings of leading CODs according to different lists in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan from 1998 to 2018. Methods: We obtained the number of deaths for three countries from the WHO mortality database for 1998, 2008, and 2018. Age-standardized death rates were calculated for rankings 10 leading CODs using WHO 2000 age structure as standard. Results: The first leading COD was cancer in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan from 1998 to 2018 based on government list; nevertheless, became stroke based on WHO list, and was stroke and ischemic heart disease based on IHME list. In the WHO and IHME lists, cancer is categorized based on cancer site. The number of cancer sites included in the 10 leading CODs in 2018 was 4, 4, and 3 in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, respectively according to the WHO list and was 4, 4, and 2, respectively according to IHME list. The only difference was the rank of liver cancer in Taiwan, which was 6th according to WHO list and was 18th according to IHME list. The ranking and number of deaths for some CODs differed greatly between the WHO and IHME lists due to the reallocation of “garbage codes” into relevant specific COD in IHME list. Conclusions: Through the use of WHO and the IHME lists, the relative importance of several specific and avoidable causes could be revealed in 10 leading CODs, which could not be discerned if the government lists were used. The information is more relevant for health policy decision making.
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