This piece first appeared on HuffingtonPost.com.
It turns out that accidents are a fast-growing cause of death in the country. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced last week that there were 167,184 injury deaths in 2004 alone. This news made headlines in your local papers last week. But of the many reports I read, none provided context about the CDC's news. Instead of it being useful information which provides guidance on how to live our lives- it wound up being a tantalizing, but useless data dump. So be careful when someone gives you seemingly important news without giving you other information that will allow you to really understand what that news means.
With regard to the CDC report, can you answer these questions?
How many people die in the U.S. each year overall?
What are the top causes of death?
What percentage of overall deaths do these injury statistics account for?
No clue? Well, don't feel guilty- you are not alone. And you wouldn't know from reading the newspaper more carefully.
How are we supposed to digest news about how many people die from injuries, for instance, without the answers to the above questions? And how can we expect policy makers to use this data without broader perspective? The good news, is we won't have to any more.
Now, for the first time, there's a user-friendly place to go to get this information: the aptly named Riskometer. Based on the most recent CDC data, with input from top scientists, risk communicators and web designers, the American Council on Science and Health launched the interactive site this month, after more than two years of development. The webpage, based on a peer-reviewed paper which ranks causes of deaths, makes academic chapters, graphs, and charts easily accessible to all of us. And it's fun to use! But be forewarned; we're told it is addictive.
The next time you hear, for instance, that exposure to traces of a chemical or that terrorism are leading causes of death in the U.S., just go to the Riskometer. You'll see ovals which represent that actual number of deaths attributable to a certain cause of death--- and you'll see it next to an oval which represent the number of deaths from other causes. You won't just see a 1-10 style ranking the ovals relate to each other - in terms of actual deaths from each cause-- down to the pixel! Really.
Visually appealing, interactive, and grounded in science, you'll wonder how you survived so long without it.