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The distinctive way people die in Michigan

May 20, 2015

The Most Distinctive Causes of Death by State, 2001-2004 (Click to enlarge)
Credit CDC

It doesn't matter where you live in the United States; the leading cause of death is heart disease, followed closely by cancer.

But there are more than 113 causes of death listed in the The International Classification of Diseases, and any one of those can end up on someone's death certificate. 

That means there are a lot of state-by-state distinctions hidden in the bigger numbers.

Recently the Centers for Disease Control – inspired by all those popular online "Top 10" lists – decided to calculate these distinctions, to find out the non-standard ways to die in every state.

We wish they'd headlined it this way: "You Won't Believe How People Die in Louisiana!" 

Instead, the CDC played it pretty straight. "The Most Distinctive Causes of Death by State, 2001-2010."  You can see the full report here.

A big difference between the CDC's listicle and others?  Theirs includes a mathematical model, which certainly made me run to the office coffee room for another cup of joe:

Click to enlarge

Anyway, here are some highlights from the report:

  • 15,000 deaths from HIV in Florida
  • 679 deaths from tuberculosis in Texas
  • 22 deaths from syphilis in Louisiana.

For Michigan, the report states "the largest number of deaths mapped were the 37,292 deaths in Michigan from “atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, so described." 

In laymen's terms, hardening of the arteries.

However, the report is pretty clear about what the map means.  

Although chronic disease prevention efforts should continue to emphasize the most common conditions, an outlier map such as this one should also be of interest to public health professionals, particularly insofar as it highlights nonstandard cause-of-death certification practices within and between states that can potentially be addressed through education and training. This is especially true considering that most death certificates are completed by community physicians who receive little or no formal training in this area. For example, a study found that nearly half of the death certificates certified by physicians in a suburban Florida county contained major errors, often reflecting confusion between the underlying cause of death and the terminal mechanism of death (6). It would not take many systematic miscodes involving an unusual cause of death for it to appear on this type of map.

In other words, the map is probably more reflective of human errors on death certificates than actual non-standard risks of death in your state.

So, stand down, people in Utah and two other Western states, where "legal intervention," is the non-standard means of demise. 

You will still probably die in one of these ways, from that perennial favorite of a listicle from the CDC, "Top Ten Leading Causes of Death."

  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Chronic lower respiratory diseases
  • Accidents (unintentional injuries)
  • Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases)
  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Diabetes
  • Influenza and Pneumonia
  • Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 47,112
  • Intentional self-harm (suicide): 41,149

Have a great week!