Francis Boscoe and the Centers for Disease Control recently published a map looking at the “most distinctive” cause of death in each state. Unfortunately that doesn’t mean the most creative death (that infographic doesn’t exist yet), but the highest cause of death in that state that’s at least double the national average.
“I wondered what it would look like if you applied this to something more serious, like mortality data,” he says. He took advantage of a standardized list of causes of death — 113 in all — that are used across the country and a national database of the underlying causes of death collected between 2001 to 2010.
Boscoe calculated the mortality rates for all 113 causes of death in each state and compared them with the rates for the same causes nationwide. On the map, each state and Washington, D.C., then got labeled with the local cause that was, essentially, the largest multiple of the corresponding national rate.
Some of the causes on the map might be a little weird for civilians like us. A few states like New Mexico and Nevada have “legal intervention” listed as their number one cause of death. That might sound a bit like Sarah Palin’s “death panels,” but happily that idea remains an idiot’s fiction; “legal intervention” simply means “a death in the context of a crime scene and could be either someone in law enforcement or a civilian.”
Likewise, Utah’s scary sounding “other and unspecified events of undetermined events and their sequelae” just means “the consequence of a previous disease or injury”… or “people dying from old stuff that happened to them”, if you don’t wanna be fancy about it.
In some cases, like Oklahoma’s technical-sounding “other acute ischemic heart diseases,” it points towards a larger problem about how deaths are reported in a particular state. NPR explains:
Boscoe says the most distinctive death cause in about half the states, including Oklahoma, says more about how people there are classifying deaths than the actual health of people. There are “a few different flavors of heart disease,” Boscoe says. “Oklahoma, for whatever reason, is putting them in the other, unspecified category. If you’re interested in heart attacks vs. chronic heart disease, you’re not going to get a good read on that there, whereas in most states you would.”
Still, Boscoe says that cases like Oklahoma aside, for the most part, the causes of death are… pardon the pun… dead-on. Pneumoconiosis is better known as black lung disease, which is the leading cause of death in mining states like West Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania.
So… how are YOU gonna die?
Previously Published May 20, 2015.
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