August 28, 2009

New Site Ranks Your Chances Of Dying

A new website has been developed by researchers and students at Carnegie Mellon University that allows visitors to calculate their risk of dying.

The site, DeathRiskRankings.com, uses public data from the U.S. and Europe to compare mortality risk by gender, age, cause of death and geographic region.

"Most Americans don't have a particularly good understanding of their own mortality risks, let alone ranking of their relevant risks," said David Gerard, a former engineering and public policy professor at Carnegie Mellon.

The site calculates a person's risk of dying within the next year or a longer period, as well as ranks the probable cause of death.

A professor of social and decision sciences at Carnegie Mellon, Paul Fischbeck, said it provides comparisons between people and their counterparts.

"It turns out that the British woman has a 33-percent higher risk of breast cancer death," said Fischbeck, the site developer. "But for lung-throat cancer, the results are almost reversed, and the Pennsylvania woman has a 29-percent higher risk."

The risk of dying the next year increases with age.

A 20-year-old U.S. woman has a one in 2,000, or 0.5 percent, chance of dying next year.

By the age of 40, that same woman has a three times greater risk of dying, and by age 60 her chances are 16 times greater.  At age 80 they are 100 times greater.

"At 80, the average US woman still has a 95 percent chance of making it to her 81st birthday," said Gerard, who is now an associate professor of economics at Lawrence University in Wisconsin.

Researchers said that the chances of dying within a year change depending on the comparative groups.

For each age group, men have a much higher death risk than woman. 

For 20-year-old males the risk of dying within a year is 2.5 times greater with accidents, homicides and suicides, which account for 80 percent of their death risks.

However, at the age of 50 these causes make up less than 10 percent of the risk for men and heart disease is the number one risk, which accounts for over 30 percent of all deaths.

Women's cancer risk is higher than men's in when in their 30s and 40s.

U.S. blacks have a much higher death risk than U.S. whites in their 30s and 40s when it comes to heart disease and cancer. 

Western Europeans have greater chances to die from breast and prostate cancer than people in the U.S., but people in the U.S. have a greater chance at dying from lung cancer than people in Western Europe.

Obesity-related heath risks are much higher in the U.S. than in Europe.

Fischbeck and Gerard said they hope that the site will contribute to the debate currently under way about health care in the U.S.

"We believe that this tool, which allows anyone to assess their own risk of dying and to compare their risks with counterparts in the United States and Europe, could help inform the public and constructively engage them in the debate," Fischbeck said.


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