Health, Wealth and What Kills Most of Us

Health, Wealth and What Kills Most of Us by Charles Hugh Smith for Of Two Minds

If health is wealth, and it most certainly is the highest form of wealth, then we would be well-served to take charge of our health-wealth in terms of what behaviors we can sustainably modify.

Longtime correspondent J.F. (MD) recently shared a fascinating graphic ranking the leading causes of death in the U.S. (2016 data, pre-pandemic) compared to searches on Google and what the media reports. (see chart below) Note that this data isn’t a survey asking people to rank the leading causes of death, but it does reflect what health topics they were interested in finding more about via web searches.

The media coverage of each cause of death is also not a representation of what the media presents as the leading causes of death; it’s a reflection of the quantity of media coverage of each cause of death.

I’m making these stipulations because this reminded me of a similar chart which depicts three different views of wealth inequality in the U.S.: (see chart below)

1. The actual distribution of wealth

2. What survey respondents thought was the actual distribution of wealth

3. What survey respondents thought was the ideal distribution of wealth

This survey made quite a media splash when it was published a few years ago because wealth inequality was so much more extreme than what people thought and what they reckoned as ideal. Economic Inequality: It’s Far Worse Than You Think: The great divide between our beliefs, our ideals, and reality.

Here’s the source research: (Mis)perceptions of inequality

And here is a typical research presentation of just how extreme wealth inequality has become in the U.S.: Middle Class Now Holds Less Wealth than Top 1 Percent

Returning to the causes of death chart, note the remarkable disparity between the leading cause of death, heart disease, and the search and media coverage of heart disease. While heart disease causes almost a third of all deaths, the search results and media coverages were tiny fractions of the total searches/coverage.

Cancer has a higher profile, appearing in searches somewhat in proportion to its ranking as the #2 cause of death, also about a third. Media coverage of cancer was modest but far more significant than the coverage of heart disease.

Not surprisingly, the most dramatic and tragic causes of death–suicide, homicide and terrorism– attracted the most media coverage, and a larger percentage of searches than the actual percentages of causes of death.

This may reflect the higher media coverage, the human interest in life-and-death situations and perhaps the often-noted skewing of our perceptions of risk to the dramatic (terrorism, aircraft crashes, shark attacks, etc.) rather than the mundane (heart disease).

I noticed an interesting “missing link” in the causes of death data: no mention was made of alcohol impairment as a cause of death, even though alcohol is clearly a factor in deaths from disease, homicide and motor-vehicle accidents.

J.F. noted that half of all homicides involve alcohol impairment: Strong alcohol policies help reduce alcohol-involved homicides (

“In the U.S., between 40 and 50 percent of homicides involve the use of alcohol by either the victim or perpetrator, and more than half involve people who are significantly impaired by alcohol, which means that their blood alcohol levels are at or above 0.08 percent, the legal limit for driving.”

About 30% of all vehicle fatalities involve alcohol impairment as well.

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