'Most Common Causes of Death' Maps from Slate Won't Brighten Your Day

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Slate's maps illustrating the top 10 causes of death across the country got me thinking. Sometimes I think we could all use a little memento mori (Latin for "reminder that you will die"); other times, I think we already have more than enough of them. And while our eventual passing isn't under our control, it’s worth remembering that we can at least take preventative measures to protect ourselves from some events or illnesses. That, I would argue, is what these maps created by Slate's Ben Blatt can help us do. They illustrate the top causes of death, complete with which causes are more prevalent in individual states. We might not be able to cancel out these causes entirely, but if we take care of ourselves, we can probably lessen the impact a little.

Blatt used data from a 2008 CDC report based on numbers from 2005. Wish the data was a little more recent? So does Blatt, but unfortunately, that’s info we just don’t have. “Ideally,” he writes, “we’d have more up-to-date information, but their page on mortality tables indicates that there’s nothing more recent on state-by-state causes of death.” Oh well. But we can still tell a lot based on what we do have.

The two most common causes of death in every state across the board are heart disease and cancer; indeed, they account for more deaths than the next eight causes combined. It also looks like heart disease is a bigger killer than cancer, as it takes the top slot in a whopping 41 states — everywhere except Alaska, Oregon, Washington State, Montana, Minnesota, Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut:

If we take these two overwhelmingly causes out of the equation, however, we’re left with the following three: Stroke, respiratory disease, and accidents. Here, it’s interesting (in a morbid sort of way) to see where each cause seems to be geographically focused:

But since the first two maps still only cover five of the top ten most common causes of death, here’s a third one showing which cause affects each state “at a rate most disproportionate to what one would expect based on the national rates”:

There are 10 more maps over at Slate that give even more detailed information on each state, and I highly recommend you check them out. Blatt measured this particular number by comparing the state level of each cause to the national rate of each cause, a figure that’s also known as the location quotient. Here, you can see the inclusion of the five remaining causes: Influenza and pneumonia, septicemia, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and kidney disease. It’s worth noting that this particular map is easy to misread if you’re not careful; you can’t, for example, make comparisons between states — only between a particular state and the national average.

If you're curious about how, say, things can adjust depending on age, head on over there to see 'em. If you’re feeling a little troubled by all this, though, don’t — take action instead. If you’re concerned about diabetes (maybe it runs in your family? It does in mine, though — knock wood — it hasn’t been a problem for me yet), sticking to a few simple lifestyle choices like making sure you get enough exercise and cutting down on your sugar intake can help lower your risk. The same is true if you might be at risk for heart disease. Live healthily, live well, and take care of yourselves and others around you — it’ll go a long way towards staving off brushes with mortality.