August 26, 2009 By Blake Harris
Photo: Paul Fischbeck, site developer and professor of social and decision sciences and engineering and public policy (EPP) at Carnegie Mellon.
In the days when people frequented fortune tellers (one assumes it was more frequent in ages past), probably one of the most asked question was, "When and how will I die?"
But what about a more scientific approach based on statistical data? What if you could ask things like, "What are my chances of dying in the next year? Is this more likely to be from illness or accident? And can I reduce the risks in some way?"
Well, now you can. A new Web site, www.DeathRiskRankings.com, developed by researchers and students at Carnegie Mellon University, allows users to query publicly available data from the United States and Europe, and compare mortality risks by gender, age, cause of death and geographic region.
The Web site not only gives the risk of dying within the next year, but it also ranks the probable causes and allows for quick side-by-side comparison between groups.
"Suppose you wanted to know who is more likely to die next year from breast cancer, a 54-year-old Pennsylvania woman or her counterpart in the United Kingdom. This is the only place to look," said Paul Fischbeck, site developer and professor of social and decision sciences and engineering and public policy (EPP) at Carnegie Mellon. "It turns out that the British woman has a 33 percent higher risk of breast cancer death. But for lung/throat cancer, the results are almost reversed, and the Pennsylvania woman has a 29 percent higher risk."
"Most Americans don't have a particularly good understanding of their own mortality risks, let alone ranking of their relevant risks," added David Gerard, a former EPP professor at Carnegie Mellon who is now an associate professor of economics at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis.
Fischbeck and Gerard hope the new Web site will help bring focus to some of the discussion now raging over health care policy in the United States.
They also point out that, when it comes to dying within the year, there are dramatic differences between comparative groups:
"It's much easier to make a persuasive argument when you have the facts to back it up, and this site provides all sides with the facts," Fischbeck said. "We believe that this tool, which allows anyone to assess their own risk of dying and to compare their risks with counterparts in the United States and Europe, could help inform the public and constructively engage them in the debate."
This story was compiled from online news reports and web pages.