If you want a sense of how hazardous life is, don't go to a disaster movie. Just read a report from the federal government's health-statistics apparatus. A new one from the National Center for Health Statistics, analyzing household-interview data collected in 2005, finds Americans enduring one mishap after another—but feeling fine anyhow.
One part of the report tabulated "medically consulted injury and poisoning episodes"—those for which people contacted a health professional to get treatment or advice. ("Poisoning" could include bad sushi as well as strychnine.) There were 114 such episodes per 1,000 population in 2005. Falls were the most common "external cause" of such incidents, at 40.6 per 1,000 people. Overexertion was the runner-up (15.2), followed by incidents in which someone was "struck by a person or an object" (14.5). The catchall "transportation" category accounted for 13.2 injuries per 1,000 population. Men were more likely than women to be the victims of each major variety of accident except those due to falls. Another part of the report looked at the "activity engaged in at the time of the episode." "Working around house or yard" sent people limping for medical help more often than "working at paid job" (17 per 1,000 population vs. 13.8). Many were injured by sports (18.6), but even more were felled by leisure activities other than sports (29.1). Women were more likely than men to be hurt while working around the house or yard (17.5 vs. 16.4), but men were more likely than women to be hurt at work (19.9 vs. 8) or while driving (10.9 vs. 8).
Given all these accidents, we needn't be surprised that a significant minority of Americans ended up in a hospital. Among men, 5.1 percent had one hospital stay during the year under study, while 1.8 percent had two or more. Among women, 7.5 percent had one hospitalization and 1.8 percent had more than one. As you'd guess, the rate was especially high for old folks, with 17.6 percent of those 65-plus having at least one hospital stay during the year. Poor people were more likely to have been hospitalized during the year than were the non-poor (12 percent vs. 7.6 percent). A hospital stay is often for a transient condition (including childbirth as well as illness or injury), but the report also notes that 12 percent of men and women alike suffered from at least one chronic condition that caused a limitation in their "usual activities."
All of the above notwithstanding, the vast majority of Americans managed to feel healthy: 35.8 percent rated their health "excellent," 31 percent "very good," 24 percent "good," 7 percent "fair" and just 2.2 percent "poor." Go figure.