Thursday, June 12, 2008

Most feared - but unlikely - ways to die

In our darkest moments, some of which are sparked by tragic news events, many of us harbor a secret fear of dying a horrifying, painful death, such as being eaten alive by a shark.

But how likely is it that shark will find you and gobble you up? The good news is: not very! analyzed the most feared ways to die, none of which is actually very likely to happen:

1. Airplane crashes
Millions of Americans have a real and palpable fear of flying. It's really a fear of crashing--and dying in that crash. Statistically, you have a chance of being involved in a fatal airline accident once every 19,000 years, according to aviation safety statistician Arnold Barnett.

2. Shark attacks
Even if you live at the beach, your chances of being attacked by a shark are just 1 in 11.5 million. Stop feeding your fears! Don't watch "Jaws" again. Here are the facts: From 1580 to 2003, only 1,909 confirmed shark attacks occurred worldwide, according to the International Shark Attack File. Of the 737 that happened in the United States, 38 people died. Your personal risk of being killed by a shark is even less than a shark attack: 0 in 264.1 million.

3. Being murdered
Worldwide, one person is murdered every 60 seconds, says the World Health Organization. In 2000, some 520,000 people were murdered, compared with 6 million who died of cancer that same year.

4. Falling
Falls are a very real concern for the elderly. In 2001, nearly 12,000 people aged 65 and older died from a fall. But that's not your real fear, is it? Your fear is falling from a height. And while this is a leading cause of death among construction workers, only 80 people die from such falls annually. If you're not a construction worker building a skyscraper, your risk of such a fall is infinitesimal.

5. Terrorist attack
With front page news of terrorist incidents worldwide and memories of 9/11 still raw, it's not unusual to worry you might die from a terrorist attack. Historically speaking, your chances of dying from such an attack are just 1 in 9.3 million, which is slightly greater than your risk of dying in an avalanche.

6. Natural disaster
Spooked by Mother's Nature wrath? Your risk of dying in a natural disaster, such as a hurricane, tornado, flood or extreme heat or cold, is 1 in 3,357.

So you worry warts: If you really want to worry about how you might die, worry about one of these. Actually, do more than worry. These leading causes of death are preventable for the most part.

Leading causes of death in the United States:

  • Tobacco: 435,000 deaths, 18.1 percent of total U.S. deaths
  • Poor diet and physical inactivity: 400,000 deaths, 16.6 percent
  • Alcohol consumption: 85,000 deaths, 3.5 percent
  • Microbial agents: 75,000
  • Toxic agents: 55,000
  • Motor vehicle crashes: 43,000
  • Incidents involving firearms: 29,000
  • Sexual behaviors: 20,000
  • Illicit use of drugs: 17,000
Source: Journal of the American Medical Association via