What Doesn’t Kill You – and What Does

by Stephen Mills on June 26, 2012

Friedrich Nietzsche said what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but I’m convinced what doesn’t kill you makes you afraid.  This article is about what doesn’t kill you.  I get so tired of the media inspired hysteria and hype.  We worry about these non-threats due to the availability heuristic of the human brain that comes from dramatic images and stories we see in the media.  We can easily bring to mind examples and it makes our brains think they are common occurrences.

The following numbers are approximations for deaths by various causes in the U.S. in the first decade of the 21st Century.  Don’t get caught up in exact numbers, but consider the magnitudes.  This is 10 years worth of data.

Total U.S. Deaths in First Decade of 21st Century

5 – Shark
500 – Airline Crash
500 – Lightning
500 – Children Abducted and Killed By Stranger
3,000 – Terrorism
210,000 – Homicide
250,000 – Accidental Falls
315,000 – Liver Disease
320,000 – Accidental Poisoning
350,000 – Automobile Accidents
385,000 – Blood Poisoning
480,000 – Other Accidents
525,000 – Kidney Disease
560,000 – Flu or Pneumonia
770,000 – Diabetes
800,000 – Alzheimer’s
1,400,000 – Any Kind of Accidents (included separately above)
1,430,000 – Lung Disease
1,470,000 – Stroke
6,230,000 – Cancer
6,685,000 – Heart Disease

So shark attack, airplanes, stranger danger, and terrorism are all in the same category as being struck by lightning – so remote as to be almost non-existent.  They aren’t even on the chart with everything else.

Some people will say well I’m not worried about my child dying of Alzheimer’s so comparisons to things like that don’t count.  OK, but it isn’t all about your kids, it’s about you too.  But anyway let’s look at kids only.

500 – Abducted and Killed By Stranger

30,000 – Homicide
75,000 – Automobile Accidents
350,000 – Natural Causes

Your child is 700 times more likely to die of disease than stranger abduction.  You should be a lot more worried about them being murdered by someone they know than a stranger in the park.   Every time you put them in the car you are much more likely to kill them.  I’m not saying drop your child off in a dangerous neighborhood at night and let them find their way home by themselves.  I am saying we are worrying about the wrong things.  I read a weird statistic once that probably isn’t correct, but it makes the point regardless.  It was that in order to get your child abducted and killed by a stranger you would have to leave them unsupervised in the park once a week for 750,000 years.

About the only thing on this list I worry about is cancer.  Since I’m about 2,000 times more likely to die of cancer than terrorism and 500 times more likely to die in any kind of accident, I shouldn’t spend one second thinking about terrorism.

I’m 7,000 times more likely to die of one of the top 15 causes of death than I am to die of terrorism.  Every time you shove a French fry down the throat of your kid your are more likely to contribute to their early death than by turning your back on them in the park.  Once again don’t get caught up in these estimates and whether they are exact.  They are illustrations to show relative risks.

What doesn’t kill you is making you afraid and what does kill you is probably being ignored.  If you really want you and your child to be safe, stop eating donuts or those French fries and go play in the park.   If beyond all logic you are afraid of strangers in the park, then you shouldn’t go.  But it’s not because of the stranger it’s because of the much more likely possibility that you will be killed in an accident at the park or on the way to the park than by the stranger.  And don’t stop at MacDonald’s on the way home either.

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{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

Jame E. Coleman June 27, 2012 at 8:05 pm

A very good blog of various systematic criteria that we clarify doubts over life! You’re so cool. Thanks for this.

Reply

Derrick June 28, 2012 at 6:32 pm

Very interesting post. I am curious where death by suicide fits in there? I’ll say, that everyone of those numbers makes you really think.

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Leopoldo R. Hawkins July 1, 2012 at 10:17 pm

Thanks for sharing your article very interesting…

Reply

Emma July 5, 2012 at 7:50 am

It’s much easier to consider things like this when there is someone else to blame. I fear Abduction of my child more than I worry about the dangers of natural causes/disease. Its rather odd!
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Lisa Hoff August 9, 2012 at 10:02 pm

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Hack My Modern Lifestyle July 5, 2012 at 8:14 am

Hey Stephen,
Thanks for the great post! Agree that what doesn’t kill you makes you afraid. You have stated in the article the probability of one dying of a illness. The figures are indeed significantly higher than man-made mishaps like terrorism and kidnaps. However, I am more mindful of the latter. Why? Because I think that with a healthy lifestyle and positive mindset, the chances of getting illnesses is significantly reduced. But what about kidnap and terror, it can happen ANYTIME and ANYWHERE. There are less precautions we can take against such mishaps in my opinion.
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Jenny Kier July 11, 2012 at 2:05 am

Thanks for this data. It is good to have an awareness about causes of death of people in the US. I would share this one to other people. Everyday we must need to thank God for giving us new life.
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Cheryl Brian July 12, 2012 at 7:13 am

I am actually one of the people who believe that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger but after going through your stats I have got a whole different perspective about. Thanks a lot for the informative post.
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Vanessa Moore July 12, 2012 at 8:15 am

This data only means that every minute there is a human life loss. So, this post awakes my present state that it is necessary to enjoy the single day that I have on this world. It is important to enjoy life that I have right now.
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Katleen Quinlan July 20, 2012 at 7:24 am

Millions of people died every minute so this data shows only that it is true. Perhaps, it is a good topic to discuss with.
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Taylor September 28, 2012 at 4:21 pm

Wow! Those are some amazing numbers. It’s sorta sad that so many parents won’t let their kids play freely outside because they fear abduction. But the numbers are so tiny. Also, I didn’t realize the flu killed so many people. :(
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Brian McDougall November 8, 2012 at 12:14 pm

I must agree that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. This line is even popularized by a song and I can hear it over and over again from the malls, at home, in school – almost everywhere.

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