What is Your Real Risk Level?

I hear and read this all the time: "I read what pesticides can do to you. I'll only eat organic." It doesn't have to be pesticides. It could be the plastic of your drinking cup, or your chicken, or anything at all, really. Anything found "too risky for me."

I'm challenging that way of thinking. I'll do it using an example. Let's say I engage in two behaviors, one is high risk and one is low risk. I become obese, risking heart disease, and I'll drive a car. The high risk activity, in my age group (see http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr65/nvsr65_02.pdf for details) kills 184 people out of every 100,000 people, and the low-risk activity kills only 43. So does driving a car make me any more liable to die than the heart disease did already? The answer is no, it doesn't. Here's why: the two are not tied to each other; a small risk does not make the bigger risk bigger. They are not tied to each other in any way. In any given day I might have a heart attack, or I might get in a car crash, but I'll never do both at the same time. I can't die of a heart-attack-caused car crash, I can only die of a heart attack; the subsequent car crash is just where by body lands. Because they aren't tied, any risk smaller than my greatest risk doesn't matter any more; it doesn't add to the greater risk to make it even bigger, it's smaller and the larger risk already covers it. The only risk that matters is the single greatest risk. 

It's hard math to get your mind around, I know. I'll make it even clearer, if I can. Compare a car crash and drinking lead-laced water from Flint Michigan. The risk of lead in your system is very low. So if I drink leaded water, I'll still likely die in a car crash.

So all I need to know is, what is my greatest risk? Any risk lower than that isn't a risk to me any more; the big risk is the one most likely to get me.

Do pesticides to bad things? Maybe, but until they become my greatest risk, it doesn't matter; that's not what's going to kill me.

This sort of risk assessment has a significant bonus: if you only worry about lowering the one big risk, you don't have to fret over all the small risks anymore. And that will create a more relaxed view of the world, and that by itself will lower your big risk.

So without further ado, here is how you will die. This comes from the link above.

Age Risk Rate/100,000
1-14 Accident 5
15-24   Accident 23
25-34 Accident 38
35-44 Accident 38
45-54 Cancer 106
55-64 Cancer 288
65-74 Heart disease  1092
75-84 Cancer 1139
85+ Heart disease 4014

That's all you need to worry about. Lower that rate in your life and you will live longer. Everything else is less likely.

And enjoy life!

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