Monday, June 4, 2012

Lunch or Cars more Dangerous? CDC Mortality Data Answers

Oh, boy. Deep Breath.

Child safety is a treacherous topic. Children are simultaneously fragile and robust, and in them we place our fondest hopes for the future and on them all too often our worst fears for them, for ourselves and for others. The topic is super loaded.

Nevertheless, today's piece about school lunches raises some questions.

Without spending too much time on it, here's a provisional swag at mortality rates from the 2009 national data from the Center for Disease Control. They don't have a bucket for "food poisoning," so this represents mortality from "Salmonella infections," "Shigellosis and amebiasis," and "Certain other intestinal infections." (There may be one or more categories I missed, do note.)  The other category is "Motor vehicle accidents."

Count is the number of people in the age group who died in 2009. Rate is the rate of death in the group per 100,000 people.

Selected Mortality Rates for Kids

CountRate per 100K
age 5-14age 15-24age 5-14age 15-24
Possible Food Poisoning91300
Motor vehicle accidents97476882.417.8

The infections, of course, come from all sources, not just school lunch.

But the numbers look pretty clear: A child is far, far more likely to perish from motor vehicle use than from eating. (The rate for the infections is so small it rounds to zero.)

If we are serious about harm and risk reduction, we may well be better served by turning our attention to Safe Routes to School and encouraging lower usage of motor vehicles, instead of focusing on School Cafeterias and their oversight - even if some cafeterias are icky and have a bad record for cleanliness.

(If you understand disease and cause of death coding and/or demographic analysis better, and want to update the chart, or if you believe these stats are in substantially in error, please chime in! I would love help on making this better, and I will be delighted to edit and update.  Again this is a provisional swag, aimed more at magnitudes than precision.)

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