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Census report: Alaska lowest death rate in U.S.

Outside editorial: This editorial appeared in Friday's Chicago Tribune:

Posted: Monday, February 23, 2004

Last week, the Bureau of the Census released its "Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2003," a sort of paint-by-numbers portrait of both upper- and lower-case us.

The 1,000-page document is divided into topic areas including Geography and Environment, Labor, Agriculture, Manufacturers, etc. - 31 sections in all. Lurking in there are such tidbits as:

• The median center of population now is three miles east of Edgar Springs, Mo., the center point sliding farther west and south with each census.

• Some 36 percent of Americans owned (or, more correctly, shared residence with) dogs, 4 percent more than owned cats.

•Cellular phone subscriptions in 2001 were at 128.4 million, stunningly up from 5.3 million in 1990.

• There are ever more of us, 288.6 million U.S. residents in 2002, with every state except North Dakota, West Virginia and the District of Columbia gaining population since 2000. And, if you delve into the Health and Nutrition section, you'll see that there is more of the more of us.

• Fifty-eight percent of Americans are overweight now (66.5 percent of males, 50 percent of females) up from 54.3 percent in 1997 (62.3 percent of males, 46.6 percent of females then). The government notes that the higher the educational level a person has attained, the less likely he or she is to be overweight and that the greater the household income, the greater the chance that the residents of that household are physically active in their leisure hours.

• The smokingest state was Kentucky, where 30 percent of residents age 18 and over said they had smoked at least 100 cigarettes in their lifetimes and still smoked every day or some days. The leading state in illegal drug use was Massachusetts, where 10.7 percent reported toking, snorting, shooting, etc. Lowest was Iowa, where 4.5 percent used illegal drugs. Wisconsin led the nation in binge drinking (five or more drinks in a session) with 28.3 percent. Utah, at 14.2 percent, was farthest behind.

• The most dangerous piece of recreation equipment was neither the swimming pool nor the skateboard but the trampoline. There were 100,303 trampoline injuries. Even that device is pretty safe compared to such common household items as saws (95,875 injuries) and knives (459,898 injuries).

• By far the most dangerous things an American is likely to encounter are stairs and steps, accounting for 1,048,257 injuries.

• Collectively, we made more than a billion visits to doctors' offices and hospital outpatient and emergency departments. Men stayed longer in hospitals than women - 5.3 days versus 4.5 days.

• The death rate is highest in West Virginia, lowest in Alaska.

• Deeper in Health and Nutrition, we learn that our consumption of red meat is down 15 percent from 1980 with poultry up slightly more than that percentage. Cheese consumption more than doubled. So did rice.

• Ice cream consumption declined from 1980 to 1995, but has crept up since. Low fat ice cream increased in popularity from 1980 to 1995, but the choice of the healthier alternative has slipped back to its starting point. Cucumbers are up 0.8 percent. Celery is down 2.5 percent.

Reading the "Statistical Abstract," one soon is overwhelmed by the armies of stats parading past, and a question begins to form. The data flow begins to feel like the books poet Dylan Thomas remembered from his childhood, books that "told me everything about the wasp but why."



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