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Your Top 20 Fears (and How Much You Should Worry)
What’s the chance of getting struck by lightning in shark-infested waters while battling a serious bout of food poisoning? Who knows? But check out this list for the statistical risk of health issues ranging from HIV to panic attacks. (There’s a 100 percent chance #10 has happened to you.)
1. WATCH YOUR MOUTH: Dying from Food-Borne Illness (1 in 500) vs. Dying from Obesity (1 in 100)
Food poisoning: Take a tip from Snow White and don’t eat the (unwashed) apple. Food poisoning causes around 76 million illnesses and 5,000 deaths every year in the USA. That’s about 0.02 percent of the deaths that occurred in the USA in 2009. The most common culprits include salmonella and listeria infections and toxoplasmosis. So unless you’re looking to get rid of houseguests, mind the sell-by date, refrigerate perishables, wash hands, and follow the rest of these guidelines to food safety.
Obesity: Looks like the risk of food poisoning isn’t stopping anyone from chowing down. As of 2010, about 33 percent of American adults were obese. And tight-fitting jeans aren’t the only problem: Obesity’s a risk factor for serious health issues like heart disease and diabetes. The National Institutes of Health attributes about 28,000 deaths, or 1 percent of deaths in the USA each year, to obesity-related conditions. Some people are genetically predisposed to weight problems, but it’s important for everyone to stay active and eat healthfully.
2. RAIN OR SHINE: Getting Struck by Lightning (1 in 79,746) vs. Developing Skin Cancer (1 in 33)
Getting struck by lightning: Zeus doesn’t get angry often, but when he does, it’s scary. Lightning causes around 47 deaths each year in the USA, and the lifetime risk of being struck by a bolt is about 1 in 79,746. During thunderstorms, it’s a good idea to stay indoors and save singin’ in the rain for a lightning-less sky.
Skin cancer: A nose tip full of zinc oxide may look funny, but it might also save a life. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the USA: The American Cancer Society expects 81,240 new cases of skin cancer in 2012 (or 0.02 percent of the current U.S. population) that will cause 12,190 deaths (that’s about 0.5 percent of deaths that occurred in 2009). And while skin cancer can be deadly, there are ways to seriously cut the risk, like avoiding tanning beds and wearing sunscreen. Other types of cancer are also dangerous, and Americans have roughly a 50 percent chance of developing cancer over the course of a lifetime. Steer clear of cigarettes and other risk factors that make the diagnosis way more likely.
3. TOO SEXY FOR MY HEALTH: Contracting HIV (1 in 1,000) vs. Getting Pregnant (1 in 20) from Unprotected Sexual Intercourse
HIV: The risk of contracting HIV through one-time, unprotected vaginal intercourse is about 1 in 1,000 for a woman, and less for a man. (There are other ways to contract HIV, like using an infected needle, and the rates of infection for those modes of transmission may be higher.) The Centers for Disease Control estimates approximately 48,100 new cases of HIV infection occurred in 2009 in the USA. And about 16,500 to 18,000 people with AIDS die every year in the USA. Unprotected sex can also lead to other STIs, like chlamydia and gonorrhea, so know the best ways to stay safe and sexy.
Pregnancy: There’s nothing cuter than a baby— screaming and crying and peeing all night. The chance of getting pregnant from sexual intercourse varies based on a woman’s menstrual cycle, but it’s usually anywhere from zero to nine percent. To avoid participating in the miracle of life, know the different methods of contraception.
4. PANIC POINTS: Committing Suicide (1 in 10,000) vs. Having a Panic Attack (1 in 5)
Suicide: The CDC estimates 34,598 Americans took their own lives in 2007. That’s about 11.3 suicide deaths per 100,000 people. And for every actual suicide, there are approximately 11 unsuccessful attempts. It can feel terrible to battle an emotional crisis alone— luckily, there are places willing to help those who are struggling.
Panic attack: Whether it’s the sight of a snake or the switch to Facebook timeline, almost anything can trigger a panic attack. About six million Americans (or 19 percent of the current U.S. population) suffer from panic disorder, and the disorder is twice as likely to affect women.
5. GETTING BURNED: Dying in a House Fire (1 in 1,000) vs. Getting Cheated On (1 in 5)
Fire: Sean Kingston had one on the dance floor, but in real life fires can be fatal. In 2010, there were 384,000 home fires in the United States, in which 2,640 people died and 13,350 were injured (not including firefighters). That means approximately 0.1 percent of the U.S. population in 2009 died in a fire. Go beyond stop, drop, and roll and learn how to prevent fires in every home.
Getting cheated on: Love stings. Scientists found the pain of heartbreak isn’t so different from the feeling of a physical burn. And Americans need some fire extinguishers: About 22 percent of adults in monogamous relationships (and 28 percent of married men) say they’ve cheated on their partner. Looks like Brangelina isn’t the only home-wrecker out there.
6. TAKE IT LIKE A PRO: Sustaining a Concussion (1 in 5) vs. Suffering a Running Injury (2 in 3)
Concussion: Some sportsmen may be too eager to get a-head. Among high school athletes, the risk of concussion is about 17.5 percent. Snag a snazzy concussion-reducing helmet to protect those brain cells while out on the field.
7. SAFE SPLASHING: Shark Attack (1 in 60,453) vs. Drowning (1 in 1,134)
Shark attack: Jaws fans haven’t returned to the water since 1975, but the risk of a shark attack is actually 1 in 60,453. Still, it’s probably best to listen to the lifeguards and stay out of shark-infested waters.
Drowning: Though Diana Nyad braved the waves, it’s important to take precautions on a nautical adventure. The risk of drowning is 1 in 1,134, so make sure to practice proper water safety when flippin’ those fins.
8. SHOT THROUGH THE HEART: Electrocution (1 in 1 million) vs. Heart Disease (1 in 5)
Electrocution: It’s electric— and it’s not just a way to boogie on the dance floor. In 1995, the rate of electrocution in the USA was about 0.9 per million. Most of us know (hopefully) not to stick a fork in the toaster, but electrocutions can happen to anyone. So be careful— the Miss Frizzle hairdo is never in style.
Heart attack: Listen to your heart— because heart disease is the leading cause of death in the USA. The average American’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease is around 1 in 5, and more than 150,000 Americans die from heart attacks every year. But there are ways to minimize risk, like avoiding smoking and staying physically active.
9. LIFE AND DEATH: Getting Murdered (1 in 200) vs. Living to 100 (1 in 5)
Getting murdered: Whodunnit? In 2009, the FBI reported 13,636 homicides— that’s 0.6 percent of all deaths in the USA that year. Play it safe: Don’t walk alone at night or in deserted areas, and learn some other good ways to prevent violent crime.
Living to 100: Is Tuck Everlasting more realistic than we thought? A recent British study found girls born in 2011 are eight times more likely to live a whole century than people born 80 years earlier. They also offer a way to calculate the individual chance of living to 100— someone who’s 20 now has about a 1 in 5 chance of making it.
10. LUCKY DUCK: Hitting the Lottery Jackpot (1 in 175,711,536) vs. Being Born (1 in 550,343,279,001)
Winning the lottery jackpot: Think before scratching— the chance of hitting the jackpot (in New York State, at least) is 1 in 175,711,536. Perhaps the stock market’s a better investment… but hey, you never know.
Being born: Anyone who’s seen Back to the Future knows a single change in history could mean you never exist at all. In fact, there’s only a 1 in 550,343,279,001 chance that someone will be born who is you exactly. That’s like hitting the jackpot more than 3,000 times (see above). Congratulations— you won!
Which risk factors scare you the most? Tell us in the comments below!
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This isn't really a fear but a statistic I heard that made me change my course was that if you don't floss daily you have a 90% increase in getting heart disease. Since hearing that statistic I've committed to flossing everyday. Interesting how hard numbers can sometimes make us rethink our actions and decisions for the better.