On Things That Could Kill You

November 2015 | Musings

In 2012, the most recent year for which statistics are available, France’s Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale (Inserm) reported a total of 558 300 deaths in a population of 65 241 000, as estimated by the Institut national de la statistique et des études économiques (Insee) for that same year; in other terms, a mortality rate of 0.86%. In Canada, 242 074 lives were lost in 2011 (Statistics Canada) from a census population of 33 476 688 (Statistics Canada) for a mortality rate of 0.72%. Finally, the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) give us a total of 2 596 993 deaths in 2013, for a population 316 148 990 on July 4th, 2013 (U.S. Census Bureau) and thus a mortality rate of 0.82%. In general, you’re just not very likely to die in the developed world – in fact, statistically speaking, you would need to live over 116 years in France, almost 139 years in Canada, and almost 122 years in the U.S. for your chance of death to hit 100% (albeit erroneously assuming constant mortality rates and populations above).

Unsurprisingly, considering how often the medical field reminds us, the two leading causes of death across the board are cancers and cardiovascular (heart) diseases. In France, cancers killed 160 300 in 2012, i.e. a mortality rate of 0.25% and just under 29% of all deaths, and heart diseases were responsible for 141 000 deaths, a mortality rate of 0.22% and 25% of the total. Together these therefore cover over half of all deaths (54%, to be precise). If you do perish, there’s a 1 in 2 chance it will be from cancer or heart disease. In fact in Canada it is exactly that, cancer accounting for 30% and heart disease 20% of deaths. In the States, perhaps unsurprisingly as well, heart disease actually slightly outnumbers cancer, both hovering around the 24% of all deaths mark. It should thus be little wonder that these are the most intense fields of research in the medical world.

France’s Inserm also reports 3 400 deaths in transport accidents, i.e. 0.61% of deaths. You are almost 48 times more likely to die from cancer, 41 times more likely to die from heart failure, and 89 times more likely when you combine those two leading causes. Strangely enough, however, this doesn’t stop car manufacturers from trying to make their vehicles as safe as possible, or aeronautic engineers from being held to extremely strict safety standards. In the U.S., transport accidents killed 37 938, or 1.5% of the total, which slightly undermines the “speed kills” argument when you compare the interstate’s draconian 60 mph (97 Km/h) limit to French highways’ liberal 130 Km/h.

There were 665 homicides in France in 2012, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). From our numbers above, this is 0.12% of all deaths and 0.0010% of the population. In Canada, the 2011 number from Statistics Canada is 598, so 0.25% of deaths and 0.0018% of people. In the States, the CDC gives us 16 121 for 2013, or 0.62% of the total and 0.0051% of the population. Of these, firearms accounted for 11 208 murders, i.e. 70% of homicides. Without guns, the number is 4 913, 0.19% of all deaths and 0.0016% of the population. Interesting.

Which brings us to terrorism. In what has generally been a shitty year for France, self-proclaimed “Islamist” terrorists have claimed the lives of 148 people. Assuming, for lack of other numbers, that the 2012 statistics are still generally valid, this would represent 0.028% of all deaths and 0.00024% of the population. In other words, you would be almost 22 times more likely to die in a transport accident, 893 times more likely to die of heart disease, and 1036 times more likely to die of cancer. Of course, this doesn’t (and shouldn’t) stop governments around the world from taking down Daesh and preventing further attacks in the same way doctors continue to treat diseases that are not cancer or heart failure and auto engineers keep trying to prevent accidents where the driver themselves are at fault. It’s just that if you’re wondering why it’s totally fine (and I would even argue highly symbolically important) to reclaim the cafés and concert halls of Paris, it’s because you’re 393 times more likely to die from smoking (it is France…), 193 times more likely to die from drinking, and, as mentioned above, 22 times more likely to die going home – all in a country where only 0.86% of the population perishes each year, which gives you a 99.14% chance of survival overall.

© 2015 Pierre Massé