Statistics Can Provide Food for Thought …

When I was in high school and was forced to study statistics, it was a subject I viewed more with dread than relish – oddly, the latter is how I view statistics now. I think the big difference is that back then they were simply numbers with no meaning. Once I entered the world of medical and health-related public relations, statistics became a powerful tool to tell a message within the context of a greater story. But it goes beyond that – I really dig the probability that well-researched and juxtaposed statistics present – for instance, what is the chance of getting struck by lightning versus getting struck by stroke versus hitting a hole in one.

Well, I just heard a compelling hospital radio ad today stating that every 45 seconds, somebody in the U.S. has a stroke. Of course given that I have already done in-depth research on stroke for PR initiatives and know that an estimated 795,000 Americans suffer stroke every year …  I am left pondering how the hospital’s PR firm arrived at this statistic. When I got home, I did the arithmetic and I am guessing they used something like this formula – the number of seconds in a day is 86,400 multiplied by the number of days (365) in a year is 31,536,000, divided by 795,000 = 39.6. The seconds are a constant, but they obviously used a slightly different overall number of stroke victims.

Another less serious use I have for statistics is when calculating percentage-off sales. For somebody that hated statistics, I find that my love of bargains kicks into high gear and I have no problem whatsoever calculating these things on the spot in a matter of seconds. For some reason my shopaholic daughter does not share this knack, and I will get a call from her, for instance, from Nordstrom Rack, asking, “How much will this cost, mama, if it is 40 percent off?” I assume and hope that if it was a straight 50 percent off she would not have any difficulty with this.

Here are a few statistics to ponder, which by themselves might not mean much to you. However, when you put them in the context of yourself, somebody you know or heard about – they mean more.

  • There were an estimated 463,745 sports-related head injuries treated at U.S. hospital emergency rooms in 2010.
  • Every year, more than 500,000 people visit emergency rooms in the U.S. with bicycle-related injuries. It is estimated that 85 percent of cycling-related head injuries can be prevented through the use of properly fitted, approved helmets.
  • According to the American Cancer Society, about 1,596,670 new cancer cases are expected to be diagnosed in 2011. Scientific evidence suggests that about one-third of the 571,950 cancer deaths expected to occur in 2011 will be related to being overweight or obese, physical inactivity, and poor nutrition – and therefore could also be prevented.
  • The National Weather Service says that the odds of getting struck by lightning in any given year is 1 in a million.
  • Your actual odds of winning the lottery depend on where you play, but single state lotteries usually have odds of about 18 million to 1 while multiple state lotteries have odds as high as 120 million to 1.
  • According to the U.S. Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted driving, including distractions of all kinds, injures more than 500,000 people every year.
  • The odds of a PGA player hitting a hole in one is 1 in 3,756. The odds of an amateur golfer hitting a hole in one has been estimated at 1 in 12,000 to 1 in 40,000 on a par 3, depending on the source.

So what is the point of this – statistics help put life in perspective and are food for thought. And in many cases, we can actually modify our behaviors to positively impact medical and health-related statistics.

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