If every US state were close to the benchmark for lowest death rate, between 20 and 40 percent of premature deaths could be prevented annually, according to a new study from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which suggests that individual state health policies play a role in preventable early deaths.

"Well over 100,000 Americans a year die from preventable causes and these deaths are not random," said CDC director Tom Frieden. "They are clustered by geography, by state, and that's a reflection of the huge impact that healthier policies can have."

The study, which analyzed premature (before age 80) causes of death between 2008 and 2010, suggests that if all states had the same lowest death rate for each of the five leading causes of death in the US, then hundreds of thousands of premature deaths could be prevented.

The five leading causes of death in the US are heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, and unintentional injuries; combined these accounted for 63 percent of all deaths in the US in 2010, the CDC said.

But death rates from state-to-state differ greatly. If all states were held to the same lowest-death-rate benchmark, the prevented deaths would be notable, the CDC said. 

About 92,000 premature heart disease deaths, 84,500 premature cancer deaths, 29,000 premature deaths from chronic lower respiratory diseases, 17,000 premature stroke deaths and 37,000 premature deaths by accidental injury could be prevented if all states had the same low death rates, the CDC reported.

"As a doctor, it is heartbreaking to lose just one patient to a preventable disease or injury - and it is that much more poignant as the director of the nation's public health agency to know that far more than a hundred thousand deaths each year are preventable," Frieden said in a statement.

Among each of the leading preventable deaths, the southeastern states had the highest number of preventable deaths for each of the five causes.

"We think that this report can help states set goals for preventing premature death from the conditions that account for the majority of deaths in the United States," said senior study author Harold W. Jaffe, the CDC's associate director for science. "Achieving these goals could prolong the lives of tens of thousands of Americans."