What's going to kill me

Friday 8th July 2016

Bit of a light-hearted one this week! I'm a fit white non-smoking British male aged 40, what am I likely to die of over the next decade? Let's start with the basics and work inwards. 


Top causes of death 2013

The incredibly helpful Office For National Statistics publish an annual report on causes of death. The latest dataset I could find is for 2013, but I can't imagine that it makes that much difference. Here are the leading causes of death for males across all ages.

Check out the interactive graphic on their site if you're feeling morbid and want to investigate the data for your age/gender.

But looking at the data for all ages is pretty misleading, what if we look at just my age range, 35-49:


According to the last census, there are 13,463,000 British men in the 35-49 age range. Of those there were 6,861 deaths in this dataset (year 2013) which means that if I was a perfectly average member of society I'd have a 0.05% chance of dying this year. Looking good so far. 


#1 - Suicide (20.1%)

One in five of the men in the UK in my age range who die are taking their own lives. I can't decide if that's really serious, or just because there aren't many other things that men my age die from.

Kat and I took part in the incredible Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) programme a few years ago when we built their website, so I know that not all of these suicides are intentional.

The programme taught us that a large number of people who kill themselves don't mean to do it, and we spent a long time during the programme talking about people being 'at risk of suiciding' when they're unhappy or mentally ill.

The course is free and well worth going on if you have an ASIST trainer near you. 

Suicide is the #2 killer of males in the 5-19 age range, and #1 from 20 all the way up to 49. It drops to #7 for the 50-64 age range and disappears from the top ten from age 65 onwards. I couldn't find out if this is because men stop committing suicide after the age of 49 or it's just that other things start killing them more so that suicide isn't as prominent in the results.

Okay, so that's number one, but to be honest I don't feel that it's a big risk factor for me personally. Like most people I've considered suicide at one time or another, but never seriously. 


#2 - Heart disease (17.7%)

I wasn't entirely sure what this category included, so I read up and found that it covers heart attack, stroke, angina, aneurisms and many more. The good news is that 90% of these diseases are preventable and due to high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, lack of exercise, obesity, high blood cholesterol, poor diet, and excessive alcohol consumption.

So as long as I avoid these things I should be fine. My diet's not great, but I'm working on that.


#3 - Liver disease (15.4%)

Still enjoying this? Liver disease is another large category that includes infectious hepatitis, parasite infections, alcoholic liver disease, a bunch of genetic diseases and I think they're including liver cancer but I can't be sure.

I've managed to avoid any blood-borne viruses and parasites so far, I don't really drink and I had my DNA sequenced last year so I'm certain I don't have any of those genetic diseases, so this isn't a likely cause of death for me. 


#4 - Accidental poisoning (11.7%)

Ooh, this looks more promising. This category includes poisoning by household and industrial chemicals as well as deaths from alcohol and drug overdose. I couldn't find data specifically about my age range, but 67% of these deaths are illegal drug overdoses and 80% of those are opiates (including heroin), cocaine or benzodiazepines, none of which I'm into. The remaining third seems to be mainly alcohol, paracetamol and antidepressants.

I take paracetamol from time to time, but I know what a truly horrible way that is to die so I'm unlikely to accidentally poison myself with it. This doesn't look like a very likely candidate for my death after all. 


#5 - Cerebrovascular diseases (5%)

We're getting into unlikely figures now with just 341 deaths in 2013 in my age range across 13.5m men. This category covers blood either clotting in the brain or leaking into it, like transient ischemic attack, ischemic stroke and subarachnoid haemorrhage - try saying that after a few whiskies. Risk factors include hypertension, smoking, obesity and diabetes, so I'm quietly confident.


#6 - Lung cancer (4.5%)

I don't see this happening to me. 85% of all lung cancers are related to smoking (no matter what Nigel Farage says) and the remainder are split between genetic factors, asbestos, air pollution ... and radon.

Living in Cornwall we're at much higher risk of radon-related cancers as the map above shows, and we actually had radon detectors in our house for six months as part of an Environment Agency study. They said that we're just on the borderline of having to do something to mitigate the risk.

So that's a possibility, but it's pretty low risk, about 3% of total lung cancers - 1,100 people a year in the UK die from radon-related lung cancer. I couldn't find any data splitting that down by age and gender, but I assume that it's older people because the effects will be cumulative. For a reason I don't understand, you're at higher risk of developing cancer from radon if you smoke


#7 - Transport accidents (land) (3.8%)

About 1,700 people a year die in road accidents in the UK, down from over 3,500 at the beginning of the century. This category is the #1 cause of death for 5-19 year old males and #3 in the 20-34 age range, so it's already in steep decline as a cause of death for me generally.  

I think I'm also at a lower risk than most males because I work from home so there's no travel to work.

I occasionally take part in track days where you get to drive your car on a race track, and you might think this would up my risk, but organised motor sport events have very low fatality rates - lower than driving on the roads. For a start everyone is going in the same direction, the drivers are all awake, no-one is hungover and everyone is concentrating on what they're doing - rather than texting!

I don't think this is the one. 


#8 - Bowel cancer (3.5%)

This includes any cancer of the large intestine or rectum, and appears in the top ten causes of death for the first time at this age range. It's #4 in 50-64, #6 in the 65-79 and #8 in the 80+ age range. I've been unable to find out why it peaks in 50-64 old males. It's mainly caused by diet, obesity, smoking, and lack of physical activity.

The only one that worries me there is diet; looking further into the risk factors though, red meat and alcohol are the main culprits here so maybe that's not so bad after all. 


#9 - Lymphoid cancer (3.3%)

This category includes an cancers of the lymphatic system. Risk factors include infection with Epstein–Barr virus, family history, HIV/AIDS, immunosuppressant medications, some pesticides, and possibly large amounts of red meat. I think I'm okay here. 


#10 - Brain cancer (3.2%)

Finally we have brain tumours. The risk factors are largely unknown, but include our friend Epstein-Barr virus again, some industrial chemicals and ionizing radiation. Maybe our trip to Chernobyl will come with a high price?



I know this is all a bit bleak for a Friday morning, but I feel I've got a much better handle on what might kill me. I assumed that accidents with power tools or playing too much squash were my biggest risk factors, but it turns out to be suicide and heart disease.

What are yours and how do you feel about it? Click to open the graphing tool, select your gender in the top right and then your age range at the bottom.



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