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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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