How Americans Really Die: Behind the Numbers in That Graphic You Keep Seeing


This weekend, in response to President Trump’s executive order banning travelers with passports from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, people took to social media to share an image of statistics about how Americans actually die.

Brie Larson, Kim Kardashian, Jesse Williams, and thousands of others shared the graphic, which highlights mortality rates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and shows that annually two Americans die from attacks by Islamic jihadi immigrants, whereas 11,737 die from gun violence by Americans.

Apparently, a ban on children should perhaps be considered, since the graphic shows that five Americans were killed by far right-wing terrorists, but 21 died at the hands of armed toddlers. And while nine Americans were killed by all Islamic jihadi terrorists (including those who are U.S. citizens), a whopping 737 died after falling out of bed.

How accurate is this graphic?

Like most snapshots of data that people share on Facebook and Twitter, it paints a picture but doesn’t tell the whole story. The leading causes of death in the U.S. are more along the lines of what you would expect. According to the CDC, these are the top causes of death for 2015, the latest year for which data is available, as well as the number of Americans who died from those diseases:

  • Heart disease: 614,348

  • Cancer: 591,699

  • Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 147,101

  • Accidents (unintentional injuries): 136,053

  • Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 133,103

  • Alzheimer’s disease: 93,541

  • Diabetes: 76,488

  • Influenza and pneumonia: 55,227

  • Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 48,146

  • Intentional self-harm (suicide): 42,773

The current life expectancy for Americans is 78.8 years, according to the latest data, and women are expected to live longer than men.

When broken down by age groups, the No. 1 cause of death for people in their midteens to mid-40s is “unintentional injuries,” meaning accidents. The CDC also reports that about 2,000 Americans die each year from weather-related causes of death, such as heat stroke and hypothermia.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its own data and determined that 65 people were killed by wind in 2015, while 27 were killed by lightning.

Ultimately, the data paints an interesting picture in light of recent events: It seems you’re much more likely to be killed by the weather or a fall from your own bed than you are by a traveler from one of the banned countries.

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