U.S. v. Europe — What’s Your Risk of Dying?

Want to have some fun with numbers? Check out a brand new “Death Risk Rankings” website, which was sent my way today by Dr. Paul Fischbeck of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. He and his colleagues have compiled data and made a user-friendly interface that allows you to compare the risk of dying within periods of time at various ages of various causes. It also allows the user to set variables like sex and race as well as age. Very cool.

So what did learn in my first pass through the data?

If you’re a 50- to 59-year-old man (guess how old I am), your chances of dying in the next ten years are better if you live in the U.S. than in Europe: 7.8 percent versus 8.2 percent. However, all of the difference was due to a single factor: the higher rate of cancer deaths in Europe, which is undoubtedly due to the much higher rate of smoking.

But the situation is completely reversed if you’re a 50- to 59-year-old woman. For late middle-aged women, the chances of dying in the next ten years is much higher in the U.S.: 4.7 percent versus 3.9 percent. Cancer death rates are almost exactly the same in the two regions, but U.S. women over 50 are much more likely to die of heart disease, diabetes, infectious diseases and respiratory diseases — in short, everything that a good health care system that stresses prevention can help.

And did you know that if you reach age 80, your chances of dying in the next year are about one in ten? I was initially disturbed by that number. But after thinking about it for a few moments, I realized that if I were 80, I’d probably think those were pretty good odds. Moreover, if I still have the energy to play 18 holes of golf at age 80, I’ll probably think I have a pretty good chance of beating them. And if I didn’t have the energy to play 18 holes, who’d want to live anyway?

Merrill Goozner has been writing about economics and health care for many years. The former chief economics correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, Merrill has written for a long list of publications including the New York Times, The American Prospect and The Washington Post. His most recent book, The $800 Million Dollar Pill – The Truth Behind the Cost of New Drugs ” (University of California Press, 2004) has won acclaim from critics for its treatment of the issues facing the health care system and the pharmaceutical industry in particular. You can read more pieces by Merrill at  Gooznews.com, where this post first appeared.

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WOBDavid MDHealth News Ed Recent comment authors
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Doctor David … thank you for that well researched reply. I’m so sick of listening to pundits on both sides of the political aisle who pitch their opinions as facts. The American populace is too often like “sheep to slaughter” when it comes to making informed decisions. I went to a town hall meeting a few weeks back, hosted by my Congressman, and I was appalled by the lack of knowledge on both sides (i.e. those for and those against.) The questions asked about the health care reform bills were stunning. When someone in the audience asked how many people… Read more »

David MD
David MD

Actually, comparisons of US health care in particulary compared with Europe is difficult. Some parts of the US are far healthier (e.g. Utah) than others and some parts have a greater committment to health of its citizens than others. We know about Massachusettes for instance with universal health coverage. But New York City recently spent about $250 million to update Harlem Hospital to according to New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, “…Harlem Hospital will among the most technologically advanced hospitals–public or private–in the city,” Meanwhile the citizens of Los Angeles, another wealthy city, let Martin Luther King Hospital run into disrepair… Read more »

Health News Ed

I’m not sure I agree that this is “very cool”. Ok, some of the statistics might be quite interesting, but personally I wouldnt want to know what risk I have of dying at a particuler age, it seems a little weird.