Does where you live impact how you die? An interactive map from FiveThirtyEight attempts to answer that question by charting cause of death data from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation from 1980 to 2014.
Much of the existing data about causes of death is incomplete because it includes vague causes of death that are used when the actual culprit is unknown. But the Institute’s researchers tapped into demographic and epidemiological data to create a statistical model that could predict more specific causes of death in the national database that stores death records. While they do provide a more accurate picture of national death causes than previous data, there is still some uncertainty.
The map color-codes death rates by county across the country. A drop down menu at the top lets you choose a cause of death, like cardiovascular disease, cancer, neurological disorders, or mental and substance abuse disorders. Clicking the play button lets you watch the evolution of that particular cause of death over a 35-year time span. Each county’s color flickers and changes based on the number of deaths per 100,000 people, getting darker if it increases or lighter if it decreases.
As you browse the drop down, the maps give you an immediate sense of what’s killing Americans. Cardiovascular disease, the top killer in the country, has declined quite visibly over the last 35 years. Cancer, the second most common cause of death according to the map, has declined as well–but less so than cardiovascular disease. Neurological disorders are on the rise, as are diabetes, blood, and endocrine diseases. Many causes of death trend downward, including death by diarrhea and common infectious diseases, transport injuries, and digestive diseases–a reminder of the power of modern medicine. Deaths from maternal disorders, forces of nature, war, and legal intervention, and tropical diseases like malaria are almost nonexistent.
Mental and substance abuse disorders are one of the most striking categories where deaths are on the rise. In 1980, there are very few such deaths in most states, excepting areas of South Dakota, New Mexico, and Alaska. But as the years progress, the death count rises across the country. It has dramatically increased in the Appalachian regions of Kentucky and West Virginia, where there is endemic substance abuse.
Counties in Appalachia have among the highest death rates in the country, due to both substance abuse and rising cancer rates, as do counties in North and South Dakota that are predominantly home to Native American reservations with less access to health care. Meanwhile, the counties with the lowest death rates are predominantly in the West, with the three lowest being in Colorado.