Saturday, December 15, 2012

Screw Homicide, let's talk about Heart Disease!

Actually, what I have to say is (hopefully) more nuanced and useful than my headline implies :-)

This started out as a Facebook post as I wanted to respond to the voices I saw filling up my screen in reaction to the tragic shootings in Newtown, Connecticut.

Humans are hardwired to try to explain things, and when tragedies such as this occur, the impulse kicks into overdrive.  It's a club I wish I didn't belong to, but as someone who's lost a young relative to violent crime, I *can* imagine what they're going through in Newtown, and my thoughts are with them in ways that would take too long to express in a FB or Blog post.  So, where I go to try to "make sense" of things after events like this is the aggregate data.  Some facts:

  • of the 15 major causes of death that the CDC tracks, Homicide ranks 15th (with about 16,000 homicides in 2009)... and this level has held steady for about the last decade
  • of Homicides, "mass homicide" deaths have averaged about 150, also holding steady for the last decade
  • Heart disease, the #1 cause of death, took about 600,000 lives in 2009, two orders of magnitude greater than homicide, 3 orders of magnitude greater than mass homicide

Ok, so what?  Well, I guess this info, particularly the trend data, helps stop me from going down the road of "things are getting worse" thinking.  This is not say that "things are just fine".  My personal opinion is that guns are too easy to get. ( Heart disease was definitely not the top cause of mortality for young men in Chicago this past summer. )  We should have a debate on Gun Control, or "Gun Rights", if you prefer.  But I'm dubious that anything short of UK Style restrictions would have much impact on homicide rates.  Again, that's not say we shouldn't consider that, but it's politically untenable.

And perhaps, more importantly, looking at the aggregate data, I think it's awesome that we can move forward on less contentious issues, such as helping our kids be more active and eat more healthily, and really make a difference as it relates to our "top killers".


Crime Statistics since 1960:

CDC Mortality data for 2009 (table on page 5):

Information of "Mass Homicide" Rates:

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