Odds of Dying: What You Should Really Worry About

The things that could seriously get in the way of your well-being, according to the latest statistics from the National Safety Council.

When lightning struck during a monsoon storm near our home on July 28, 2016. We went out to chase it. My son, Marius Britt, got this photo. Notice the total absence of sharks.

Standing in a thunderstorm with utter glee, I love being pummeled by raindrops the size of crickets and daring God to strike me. I live among rattlesnakes in the Arizona desert, and respect them greatly, but I don’t really fear them so long as I’ve got a good body’s length between us (except that one time when one trapped me in the garden at the side of the house and I had to use my cell phone to call my wife inside the house so she could call the fire department, but that’s another story). Flying doesn’t scare me (as long as I’m not the pilot, alone and lost over the Northern California wilderness in a developing thunderstorm with a faulty compass, but that’s also another story).

Anyway, here’s what really scares me: I’m terrified being eaten by a shark. So much so that dangling my feet even in a man-made lake gives me the heebie-jeebies. I can muster no happiness at all swimming in the ocean. The fear is totally irrational, I know.

OK, Finally, the News …

Blue sharks are supposedly not very aggressive. I get zero comfort in that scientific viewpoint. Photo: NOAA/NEFSC

In the pursuit of happiness, fear and worry can be real downers (death even more so). So to put your mind at ease about everything from bee stings to asteroid strikes, here are the leading causes of death, announced yesterday by the National Safety Council. These are the things that could seriously get in the way of your well-being.

Top 10 Lifetime Odds of Dying By …

  1. Heart Disease: 1 in 6
  2. Cancer: 1 in 7
  3. Chronic lower respiratory disease: 1 in 27
  4. Suicide: 1 in 88
  5. Opioid overdose: 1 in 96
  6. Motor vehicle crash: 1 in 103
  7. Fall: 1 in 114
  8. Gun assault: 1 in 285
  9. Pedestrian incident: 1 in 556
Choices, choices. Photo: Pixabay/SplitShire

The data are for 2017, the most recent year compiled and analyzed. They cover “selected categories,” not all possible ways to croak. Here is the rest of the published list — more stuff to worry about, though maybe a little less so (with a few comments by yours truly):

  • Motorcyclist: 1 in 858 (Note #1: these are the odds if you are one, not the odds of being killed by one)
  • Drowning: 1 in 1,117 (this is, like, right behind sharks on my fear scale; hmm…)
  • Fire or smoke: 1 in 1,474
  • Choking on food: 1 in 2,696 (who knew? practice your Heimlich!)
  • Bicyclist: 1 in 4,047 (see Note #1 above)
  • Accidental gun discharge: 1 in 8,527
  • Sunstroke: 1 in 8,912
  • Electrocution, radiation, extreme temperatures and pressure: 1 in 15,638 (one has to use one’s imagination on this one)
  • Sharp objects: 1 in 28,000 (self-inflicted? probably)
  • Cataclysmic storm: 1 in 31,394 (if you’re the only person killed by a given tornado, are you part of this stat?)
  • Hot surfaces and substances: 1 in 46,045
  • Hornet, wasp and bee stings 1 in 46,562
  • Dog attack: 1 in 115,111
  • Plane crash: 1 in 188,364
  • Lightning: 1 in 218,106
  • Railway passenger: 1 in 243,765

Lowering the Odds

Of course, if you never ride a motorcycle, bicycle or train, you can scratch those off your kick-the-bucket list.

And to your friends who are terrified to fly, you can offer a different angle on that tired but true automobile axiom. Tell them: “You’re more likely to die in a dog attack!”

Since this article is part of a science-reporting project, I have to add: Eat well, don’t drink too much, sleep better, chill out and get lots of exercise. There, you just lowered the odds of death by some of the Top 10 items above.

Fear is Healthy, But …

Meanwhile, the NSC has some advice around knowing the numbers and using them wisely:

“Fear is natural and healthy,” the agency says. “It can help us respond to danger more quickly or avoid a dangerous situation altogether.

“It can also cause us to worry about the wrong things, especially when it comes to estimating our level of risk. If we overestimate our risk in one area, it can lead to anxiety and interfere with carrying out our normal daily routine. Ironically, it also leads us to underestimate real risks that can injure or kill us.”

Image: Pixabay/Bibbi228

Sharks & Asteroids

Odds of death by asteroid, by the way, weren’t on the NSC list. But two scientists, working separately, have put that figure at 1 in 700,000 and/or 1 in 1.6 million. Take your pick, then worry about something else.

Finally, the odds of dying in a shark attack are 1 in 3.7 million, according to one expert estimate. I find zero comfort in that, but I’m happy I live in the desert.

You can see the full NSC report here.