Killing Us Softly

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Some crank has a piece in the Wall Street Journal this morning about the amazing number of deaths that result every year from smoking, overeating and other risky behaviors. The key grafs:

Dr. Majid Ezzati, a Harvard School of Public Health professor who co-authored the report, estimates that if you net out the double-counting, somewhat more than a million people die annually from the 12 behavioral risk factors, which include the obvious (immoderate alcohol consumption) and the less so (eating too little fish, which provides omega-3 fatty acids).

Put more starkly: Of the 2.5 million deaths that occur annually in America, something approaching half could be prevented if people simply led healthier lives.

Compare this to the number of lives (18,000) it's been estimated would be saved annually by universal health insurance--which I'm favor of anyway, and so is Ezzati. Still, the numbers are sobering. An awful lot of deaths are essentially voluntary--so many that, as a group, the American people appear to be committing slow-motion suicide.

(You can read the full study here, and by the way, it doesn't take account of fast-motion suicide, which claims around 33,000 lives annually, or roughly twice the number claimed by homicide. The person most likely to murder you is you!)

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Daniel Akst

Dan Akst is a journalist, essayist and novelist who wrote three books. His novel, The Webster Chronicle, is based on the lives of Cotton and Increase Mather. More

Dan Akst is a journalist, novelist and essayist whose work has appeared frequently in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, Wilson Quarterly, and many other publications.
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