The Things Most Likely to Kill Us
What are the biggest risks to our lives? Some are overblown.
What are the major risks to our lives? If we look at the statistics of what claims lives, some of our collective fears look unfounded.
According to the Centers for Disease Control’s most recent tally, 614,438 Americans died of heart disease in 2014, and another 591,699 from cancer. Chronic lower respiratory diseases (not including the flu and pneumonia) took 147,101 lives in that year, while 136,053 people died accidental deaths. Strokes claimed 133,103 lives, Alzheimer’s disease 93,541 more and diabetes another 76,488. Those were America’s leading causes of death.1
Notice what that list did not include. It did not include war, terrorism, murder, plane crashes, natural disasters, or the Zika or Ebola viruses. Many of us fear these things, but they are hardly prominent causes of American mortality. Our perception of risk may be skewed. You may know someone who is afraid to fly, but who consistently smokes. You may know someone who fears dying in a terrorist attack, yet drives aggressively and recklessly on the freeway.
Note also that many of the mortality causes on the CDC list may be preventable. Lifestyle choices may help us avoid certain forms of cancer, diabetes, stroke, or lung and heart disease.
Depression is a comparatively underpublicized risk to our lives. In 2014, CDC statistics show that 42,773 Americans died from suicide or forms of “intentional self-harm.” Suicide was the tenth biggest killer in America that year.1
Medical errors may pose a major risk. The medical professionals who treat us are only human, and they can make mistakes. How often do serious mistakes occur? Far too often, according to a team of researchers at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Medicine. This year, that research team published a study in The BMJ (formerly, The British Medical Journal) critiquing the CDC’s figures, asserting that medical mistakes actually represent America’s third-leading cause of death. The CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics does not list doctor and hospital errors as a cause of death, but the researchers estimate that these lapses result in more than 250,000 deaths a year.2
We don’t know exactly when or how we will die, so we can only strive to live well. Avoiding addiction, eating enough fruits and vegetables, controlling our sugar and fat intake; these are all things we are capable of doing. Rather than worry about what might take our lives, we can take better care of ourselves to sustain our health and quality of life.
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1 - cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/leading-causes-of-death.htm [4/27/16]
2 - newsok.com/article/5496838 [5/7/16]