After two years of the Covid pandemic, INSEE experts expected to see the number of deaths return to their usual level in 2022. However, last year, the statistical institute recorded 675,000 deaths, or 53,800 of more than planned. This is more than in 2020 (668,900 deaths) and than in 2021 (661,600 deaths).
This peak in deaths mainly concerned the elderly – the excess mortality of 75-84 year olds was 11% higher than expected – but also, and this is more surprising, those under 34 years old. Even if this phenomenon remains relatively low – excess deaths concerned 875 people aged under 34 in 2022, out of a total of 53,000 -, “it is surprising since these are age groups where the risks of mortality are weak,” admits Sylvie le Minez, head of the demographic and social studies unit at INSEE.
All of these deaths cannot be attributed to Covid since the number of deaths linked to the disease has greatly decreased in 2022: 38,300 people died of the coronavirus in 2022, against 59,100 in 2021, according to provisional figures from Public Health France . How then can this excess mortality be explained?
Very intense bouts of flu
“In 2022, there were two very intense flu episodes and three heat waves. The number of predicted deaths is calculated based on the average mortality from flu and heat wave episodes experienced between 2010 and 2019. Last year, the intensity of these phenomena was greater,” explains the expert from the Insee, which supervised the study.
The year 2022 has been the hottest year never recorded in France since the beginning of the 20th century, according to Météo France. “The postponements of operations, the screenings which were not carried out during the pandemic could also have led to more deaths than what one would have expected”, advances Sylvie Le Minez. But the comparison with previous years also suffers from the fact that, during the first confinement, many deaths could have been avoided due to the drop in road accidents and certain contagious diseases.
The unknown remains the increase in deaths among those under 34, a priori less worried by influenza epidemics and heat waves. The increase in road accidents in 2022 in this age group (+12%, or 109 people) may be one explanation. But “it’s around a hundred out of 600 excess deaths, so that can only partly explain”, judge Sylvie Le Minez. A further study conducted by the epidemiology center on the medical causes of death (CépiDc) should identify the reasons for this excess mortality.