The Odds of Dying

February 11, 2016

Everyone dies of something, but after slogging through the daily news, you’d think most people die from terrorism, shark attacks and gas explosions. But are these tragedies — not to mention deaths from lightning strikes, plane crashes and tsunamis — actually top killers in the United States?

Not really.

Even combined, these incidents killed far fewer people than the most deadly illness — heart disease, which took the lives of more than 614,000 people in the United States in 2014, accounting for about 23 percent of all deaths in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

To separate the deaths that make headlines from those that are far more common, Live Science investigated the odds of dying from various causes. We used the CDC’s Wonder database for 2014 data and other sources, and found that you’re more likely to die of Alzheimer’s disease (about 29 deaths per 100,000 people in the U.S.) than you are from contact with a venomous snake or lizard (there were just five such deaths in 2014).

In total, about 2.6 million people died in the United States in 2014, according to the CDC. To put this number into perspective, that means about 824 people died for every 100,000 people in the country. (Keep this statistic in mind, as we’ll be giving death rates per 100,000 people throughout this article.) Worldwide, an estimated 56 million people died in 2012, the most recent year for which numbers on worldwide deaths are available from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Although Hollywood advised us (in no fewer than five of its blockbusters) to “Die Hard,” there are a ton of ways to die. Here’s a look at how many people die from common, unexpected and even theoretical events, and the science behind those numbers. [9 Healthy Habits You Can Do in 1 Minute (Or Less)]

Top 2 Deadly Diseases

In decades past, infectious diseases were the No. 1 killer, “but with the advent of antibiotics and treatment of infectious diseases, people started to live longer,” said Dr. Maan Fares, a staff cardiologist at Cleveland Clinic. With many infections now conquered, people’s lifestyle choices — including whether they smoke, how they eat and how much they exercise — are catching up with them, and causing conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, Fares told Live Science.

So, it may come as no surprise that the top two killers — heart disease and cancer — account for roughly half of all deaths in the United States. About 193 per 100,000 people died from cardiovascular problems, such as heart attacks, in the United States in 2014. Worldwide, cardiovascular diseases killed 17.5 million people, accounting for 3 of every 10 deaths in 2012, the WHO reported.

People’s risk of heart disease rises with smoking, sedentary lifestyles and poor sleep. To lower your risk of dying of heart disease, you can exercise, eat colorful fruits and vegetables (and fiber), and drink less alcohol.

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