What are you more afraid of: cancer, a shark attack, an airplane crash or diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease with serious and often fatal consequences. It affects almost every organ in the body, causes severe circulatory problems and greatly increases the risk of heart attack. In 2005, the most recent year for which there are statistics, 233,619 Americans died from diabetes related causes. One out of every ten U.S. adults is diagnosed with diabetes at some point in his or her life.

Statistically, these risk assessments make absolutely no sense.

Yet no one seems very concerned about it.

In August 2008, the American Diabetes Association conducted an online survey of over 2,400 American adults. Only 3 % of the respondents expressed concern over diabetes, while 49 % reported a fear of cancer. Both diseases have about the same number of new cases diagnosed each year.

Nationwide, 10 % of U. S. adults have been diagnosed with diabetes, while only six percent have been diagnosed with cancer. But awareness of cancer is clearly much higher.

Sixteen percent of the people surveyed feared being in a plane crash; 5 % feared being struck by lightning and 4 % feared shark attacks. Experts estimate that about 70 shark attacks occur globally each year, and in 2007 the NTSB reported only 491 plane crash-related deaths.

Statistically, these risk assessments make absolutely no sense.

About one million new cases of diabetes are diagnosed in the U. S. every year. You are far more likely to develop diabetes than you are to be one of the 70 people in the world attacked by a shark.

The problem is that what we fear is much more about imagery than it is about logic and statistics. Shark attacks and airline crashes present a much more frightening image than diabetes does — at least until someone contracts the disease and realizes how life-altering it is. No one has yet made a popular movie about high blood sugar killing people in the waters off of Long Island. Some statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlight the seriousness of diabetes:
  • Adults with diabetes have heart disease death rates two to four times higher than the rest of the population.
  • Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure, accounting for forty-four percent of all new cases in 2005.
  • Over sixty percent of all lower limb amputations not due to trauma are performed on people with diabetes
  • Diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness in adults twenty to seventy-four years of age.
Most importantly, lifestyle can play an important part in preventing diabetes. Maintaining a healthy weight reduces the risk of becoming diabetic. So does shedding some pounds if you're already overweight. Diabetes is treatable, but about one-fourth of the people with diabetes don't even know that they have it. The only way to find out is to go and get checked for it.

It's something to think about the next time your plane is coming in for a landing.