Sunday, 20 January 2013

Kiwis, what will you die from?

Sometimes exciting results come from chance interactions. Twitter, The Facebook, Blogs and even the occasional Conference and ensuing IRL discussions appear to be accelerating research and certainly the discussion of research. For example, Siousxie Wiles and I have discussed the "Fighting Disease" component of The Great NZ Science Project in multiple forums.  We were both frustrated by the lack of real-data that claims have been based upon, in the associated website and Facebook groups. Then at the annual NZ Microbial Society Meeting we decided to do something about it.

It turns out that mortality data for NZers in 2009 is freely accessible from Statistics NZ. There is a useful ontology, classifying the causes of each 2009 death. We can parse snippets of information from this data and use it to ask questions. Initially we wanted to know, "What is killing New Zealanders?".

Dr Mike Dickison has subsequently generated a gorgeous graphic illustrating the leading causes of Kiwi deaths.  Siousxie has now blogged about the result and compared it to the result of a quick online survey she conducted.
This is great. Mike's graphic now tells us that Circulatory Disease and Cancer are our biggest killers. Now we have a tonne of other questions to address.
  • What are the main contributors to these killers? 
  • Is prevention really better than cure? 
  • How well does my sedentary lifestyle predict my risk of any of these diseases? What if I take up smoking and drinking?
  • If obesity & lack of exercise predicts circulatory disease &/or disease, and traffic accident deaths are comparatively low, then should I drop the kids of at kindergarten on my bike instead of by car?
  • Cause of Death is a very clear metric, but are there better ones? E.g. dollars spent, hospital visits, ...

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