A new web site claims to give the odds on you dying next year, or for whatever period you select, based on a few simple questions.
The site, DeathRiskRankings.com, is the brainchild of researchers and students at Carnegie Mellon University. It provides answers based on publicly available data from the United States and Europe, comparing mortality risks by gender, age, cause of death and geographic region. Put your info in, and it produces the probable causes of your demise and provides insight on the timing of that unfortunate event.
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The site can compare such things as the odds of death next year by breast cancer for, say, a 54-year-old Pennsylvania woman or her counterpart in the United Kingdom.
Of course the results produced by the web site speak to groups of people and cannot predict with accuracy when you might actually kick the bucket. The timing of your own end is based on many uncharted factors, from heredity to lifestyle to untimely accidents.
But noodling around with the interface can be enlightening, if not frightening.
"It turns out that the British woman has a 33 percent higher risk of breast cancer death. But for lung/throat cancer, the results are almost reversed, and the Pennsylvania woman has a 29 percent higher risk," explained Paul Fischbeck, site developer and professor of social and decision sciences and engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon.
"Most Americans don't have a particularly good understanding of their own mortality risks, let alone ranking of their relevant risks," said David Gerard, a former professor at Carnegie Mellon who is now an associate professor of economics at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis.
The researchers found that beyond infancy, the risk of dying increases annually at an exponential rate.
A 20-year-old U.S. woman has a 1 in 2,000 (or 0.05 percent) chance of dying in the next year, for example. By age 40, the risk is three times greater; by age 60, it is 16 times greater; and by age 80, it is 100 times greater (around 1 in 20 or 5 percent).
"The risks are higher, but still not that bad," Gerard said. "At 80, the average U.S. woman still has a 95 percent chance of making it to her 81st birthday."
Other results for queries about dying within the year:
For every age group, men have a much higher annual death risk than women. For 20-year-olds, the risk is 2.5 to three times greater for men. Men are much more prone to accidents, homicides and suicides, and the risk of dying from heart disease is always higher for men than women, peaking in the 50s when men are 2.5 times at greater risk of dying.
Women's cancer risks are higher than men's in their 30s and 40s.
For heart disease and cancer, U.S. blacks have a much higher death risk than U.S. whites. Overall, blacks in their 30s and 40s are twice as likely to die within the year as their white counterparts. Only for suicides, do whites consistently exceed blacks, where whites typically have two to three times greater chances of dying.
For 20-year-old males, 80 percent of their death risks are from accidents, homicides and suicides. By age 50, however, these causes make up less than 10 percent and heart disease is No. 1, accounting for more than 30 percent of all deaths.
Obesity-related death risks are much higher in the United States than in Europe. For example, the annual diabetes death risk in the United States is three times that found in northern Europe for 60 year olds.
Fischbeck and Gerard hope the site will add information to the U.S. health care debate.
"We believe that this tool, which allows anyone to assess their own risk of dying and to compare their risks with counterparts in the United States and Europe, could help inform the public and constructively engage them in the debate," Fischbeck said.