Monday, October 25, 2010

What should we really be afraid of for Halloween?

Earlier this month Garth Reynolds began a blog post with:

“Did you know that the #2 thing people fear most is being burned alive. Guess what #1 is. That’s right, public speaking.”

No, I didn’t know it and Garth didn’t bother to provide a reference to where he found that little gem. When I looked around on Google I instead found the following claim here:

“Public speaking unease is so common it may qualify as an everyday problem. You may have read about the survey that showed public speaking to be the #2 thing people are afraid of, with #1 being burned alive.”

I had never read about that survey either. The word survey had a link, but it was to the Job Search function at So far I haven’t found who did that survey, or how, when, or where, or why.

Being burned alive is not on my top ten list of fears. I had not thought of it for years until earlier this month when I saw Ignmar Bergman’s 1957 film The Seventh Seal on television again. That film takes place when the Black Death (probably bubonic plague) was ravaging Sweden around 1350. It contains this scene where a young girl is burned as a witch.

Infectious diseases certainly are something we should fear. What other common causes of death are there? There is a cheerful web site all about Death Risk Rankings where you can look up what probably will kill you next year.

The Top Ten Causes of Death for U.S. residents are:

1. Circulatory system diseases 38.6%
2. Cancers 23.2
3. Respiratory diseases 9.7
4. Accidents 4.2
5. Nervous system diseases 4.1
6. Endocrine system diseases 4.1
7. Digestive system diseases 3.6
8. Infectious and parasitic diseases 2.6
9. Urinary tract diseases 2.4
10. Mental and behavioral disorders 2.2

Suicide came in at #11 with 1.3%. Together those eleven causes account for 96% of deaths. Even when you expand the list of causes to the full 63 categories you won’t find one for being Burned Alive, just Accidents - Other and Others which total 1.1%. Transportation Accidents were 1.9%. Homicide was 0.7% and AIDS was 0.6%. (You won’t find Public Speaking either). If you look at different age groups, then you will find very different rankings.

For ages 20 to 29 the Top Ten Causes of Death are:

1. Accidents 38.1%
2. Homicide 15.2
3. Suicide 13.2
4. Cancers 6.3
5. Circulatory system diseases 5.9
6. Infectious and parasitic diseases 3.3
7. Ill-defined symptoms and causes 2.9
8. Nervous system diseases 2.2
9. Endocrine system diseases 2.1
10. Respiratory diseases 1.8

For ages 40 to 49 the Top Ten Causes of Death are:

1. Cancers 24.0%
2. Circulatory system diseases 23.6
3. Accidents 12.3
4. Infectious and parasitic diseases 7.2
5. Digestive system diseases 6.8
6. Suicide 5.2
7. Endocrine system diseases 3.9
8. Respiratory diseases 3.4
9. Mental and behavioral disorders 2.3
10. Nervous system diseases 2.1

For ages 60 to 69 the Top Ten Causes of Death are:

1. Cancers 36.7%
2. Circulatory system diseases 32.5
3. Respiratory diseases 8.9
4. Endocrine system diseases 4.9
5. Digestive system diseases 4.0
6. Accidents 2.3
7. Infectious and parasitic diseases 2.3
8. Nervous system diseases 2.2
9. Urinary tract diseases 1.9
10. Suicide 0.8

Watch out for transportation accidents, and have a happy Halloween!

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