Years of potential life lost (YPLL) is a measure of the
degree that diseases or other forces in society that
cause death (such as car accidents or war), reduced
the length of time that a person or persons lived. More
specifically, it is an estimation of the number of years a
person or persons would have lived if medical
conditions such as heart attacks or cancer never
happened. The upper reference range for the
calculation should be the life expectancy of the
population of interest.
The standard upper reference range in developed nations is typically arbitrarily set at 75.
Some developed countries have a lower life expectancy than 75 and some are higher.
The country with the longest life expectancy according to the Central Intelligence Agency
is Monaco (89.68). Third world countries would have a much lower upper reference
range. For example, the life expectancy in many African countries is only in the upper
The calculation for YPLL is very straightforward on the individual level. One simply takes
the year that someone died and subtracts that from the upper reference life expectancy
age. Thus, someone who died at age 60 who was expected to live until age 75 had 15
years of potential life lost (70 - 65 = 15). If a person dies later than the life expectancy
then there are no years of potential life lost and no reason to do the calculation.
There is no such thing as a negative number for years of potential
life lost. Thus, someone who died at age 85 who was expected to
live until age 75 has a YPLL of 0, not -10. YPLL data can be
summarized for a particular group in a certain year or decade by
taking the average YPPL for all members of the group who died and
averaging them together.
Mortality rate is different from YPLL because mortality rate focuses
only on the number of people who died from a certain condition. In
most developed countries, mortality rates are highest for heart
disease and cancer. However, many elderly people die of these
conditions and would not be accounted for in YPLL.
If YPLL was used as the main indicator of premature death, then unintentional injuries (e.g., drowning,
falls, fires, burns, motor vehicle accidents), infections, and poisoning would be the main causes of death.
However, since relatively few young people die and more people die of heart disease and cancer, those
two topics tend to get the most attention from the public and the most research funding.