Statistically, The Biggest Threats We Face…And How To Beat The Odds

In the last few months especially, we Americans are becoming more and more familiar with risk assessment. I’m sure that most people have seen some version of “You’re more likely to be killed by ____ than a foreign-born terrorist” floating around the news or Facebook. Those of us who fear the friendly skies remind ourselves over and over again when boarding that we were more likely to be killed in a car crash on the way to the airport than we are in a plane crash. Press Secretary Spicer likes to play the statistics game as well, reminding us that the vast majority of people who enter this country every day are unaffected by new travel restrictions.

At least from my perspective, arguments over statistics and facts seem to be playing a bigger part in our understanding of the political system, what’s right and what’s wrong, and the best way to protect American lives than they did in previous years. I’m left wondering: how should we use statistical analysis? What is a fact? What’s more dangerous–a well-armed population, or one that’s not armed at all?

I can’t help but feel that perhaps we’re viewing statistics from the wrong angle. Why are we so afraid of terrorists, or kidnappings, or mass shootings? Are we statistically likely to be killed by a terrorist? Killed by anyone? Is it more likely that our children, G-d forbid, will be kidnapped by a stranger, or injured in a car accident because we were texting?

Bearing all of this in mind, I’ve put together a few practical tips that (statistically) will increase your safety as an American.

  • Eat well. Knowing nothing more about you than that you’re an American citizen, I would bet that you’re going to die of heart disease. And for one in four of you (according to the CDC), I’d be right. In fact, out of the top ten killers of Americans in 2014 listed in a CDC report, 8 of them were medical, most of which aren’t helped along by our highly-processed diets.
  • Cut back on alcohol, and get a fence for your pool. Now, you might be saying “I’m not as concerned about dying of a heart attack at 70. I’m concerned about dying now, in my prime.” I totally hear that. And while I understand your critique of my approach, whether “now, in my prime” is 15 years old or 45, you’re still not likely to be killed by a terrorist (or in a mass shooting, or by a police officer). If you’re between the ages of 1 and 45 and you were to, G-d forbid, die tomorrow, according to the CDC you’d die as a result of something called “unintentional injuries.” What this most likely means is that you will have died in a car crash, having been accidentally poisoned (most likely by drugs or alcohol), or perhaps by falling or drowning. Believe it or not, a lot of time when people get into car accidents, fall, and drown, alcohol is also involved.
  • Get your flu shot. True, it doesn’t protect against every strain of the flu, and there is an infinitesimally small risk of an adverse reaction. But if we’re just talking statistics, 55,000 Americans died of the flu in 2014 (again, according to the CDC). How many people died from homicide? 16,000.
  • Check in with a therapist. Once again, after you’ve lowered your risk for things like accidents and diseases, you’re still more likely to be killed at your own hand than you are by a carjacker or an armed robber. Working on your mental health (much like your physical health) has the added benefit of being both restorative and preventative.
  • Exercise. Not only does getting your blood pumping make you healthier and less likely to die from heart disease, stroke, cancer, etc. it also is statistically likely to improve your mental health, which lowers your risk for the cause of death that usually rings in at around number 10 for Americans–suicide.

There’s another argument to be made–the argument that fear of terrorists, kidnappings, murder, gun violence, and other hot-button issues isn’t a fear of death. It’s a fear of our changing landscape, that no matter what side of the political divide you fall on, you won’t feel at home or safe in the country where you were born, or perhaps the country that was promised to you. And those are not illegitimate fears. I’ll admit that I, myself, have come to my husband on more than one occasion, crying, wondering what the future looks like for my America.

I’m not saying don’t vote. I’m not saying don’t call your congresspeople. I’m saying that I like to believe that I am a logical person. I think that most of you would like to believe this about yourselves as well. And yet, despite the overwhelming statistical evidence to say that I am more likely to be injured in a car accident than I am by rowdy teenagers, I considered stepping into a busy street three weeks ago to avoid a group of students who were blocking the sidewalk. And I probably spend more time every day reading the news than I do researching healthy meals for my family.

This essay isn’t meant to discourage people from speaking and being informed about the political climate, or to minimize the fears of conservative, liberal, or otherwise-identifying Americans. It’s a reminder that according to the WHO, in the middle of a civil war in 2014, 28 percent of Syrian deaths were from heart disease. It’s not a case against calling your senators and working towards your vision for the world, but for checking in with yourself and making sure that you’re doing everything you can to live a happy and healthy life. It’s the argument for taking 5% of the time every day that you spend thinking and worrying about all the things and people you can’t control, and to work on changing the things you can.

It’s another way of looking at risk–the bigger picture.

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