The Centers For Disease Control regularly issues useful, dramatic data on the state of the nation’s health, but last week a clever researcher named Frances Boscoe, who works for the New York State Cancer Registry, decided to take a very different type of look at the causes of death in America. The result is the following map, published in the CDC journal “Preventing Chronic Disease”. The map is complete with an explanatory legend, and portrays “the most distinctive causes of death, state by state”.
When I first looked at the map I wasn’t sure what CDC meant by “distinctive” causes of death, leading to some rather hilarious interpretations of the colorful data display. Tuberculosis the most distinctive cause of death in Texas – really? And in California – hyperplasia of the prostate? WTF? Of course Louisiana was no surprise – Syphilis. But “Legal Force” as the most distinctive cause of death in Oregon? I thought it was all Peace and Love in the NW? Then again, in Arizona it is “discharge of firearms”. Well, OK, that computes, given the activities of Sheriff Joe.
Still, even in the haze of my confusion I was sure that we weren’t talking about leading causes of death, which everyone knows are diabetes, heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s.
The answer lay in the body copy accompanying the map – what the researchers mean by “Distinctive”. I finally figured out that “Distinctive” means that a particular cause of death is at least twice as high as a proportion of all deaths in a particular state, compared to its proportional relationship to causes of death in all other states.
Thus, at least twice as many Californians die from hyperplasia of the prostate, as a proportion of all California deaths, compared with hyperplasia of the prostate as a cause of death in all other states. So now the graphic begins to make sense.
Many interesting things leap out at me from this data, but one of the most interesting is the cluster of respiratory disease deaths in the Midwest (L & K on the map). Not that legal Coca Leaf wouldn’t be welcome anywhere in the US, treating and even curing a wide range of diseases, but according to this map it ought to be especially welcome in the wheezing, gasping, breathing-compromised Midwest.
Of course – there’s not much chance of that ever happening, right? However just consider that legal Coca Leaf could effectively treat the most distinctive cause of death in at least 10 states and ask yourself – why is this completely safe natural medicine not available nationwide? What in the world (or who) could be stopping this from happening?