Abstract: There were substantial reductions in mortality rates for all causes of death and for cardiovascular diseases in all age groups examined and both sexes during the period 1969 to 1990. Among young and middle-aged women, cardiovascular diseases were no longer the major cause of death; cancers were. In younger men, accidents, poisonings and violence (including suicides) were the leading cause of death. In middle-aged men, cardiovascular mortality dropped to about the same level as cancer mortality. Only in older people did cardiovascular mortality still dominate. Nevertheless, the proportion of all deaths due to cardiovascular disease remained high and there are opportunities for further reductions. The relative lack of improvement in mortality from cancers suggests that these will form increasing proportions of the burden of disease and treatment costs in the next decades.