The CDC recently released an interesting map depicting the most “distinctive” cause of death in each state from 2001 through 2010. These causes of death are not the most common – that would be cancer or heart disease in every state – but rather unusual causes of death that are disproportionately common in each state.
Because these arent the most common cause of death, in some states just a few dozen people are dying of each condition. For example, the number of deaths range “from 15,000 deaths from HIV in Florida to 679 deaths from tuberculosis in Texas to 22 deaths from syphilis in Louisiana.”
Maps like this one can be helpful in elucidating unique health conditions or social issues in each state. We all know that as a country we are overweight; pointing out the number one killer (heart disease) on a map on seeks to reinforce what is already known. The “distinctive cause” of death points to other issues – like people in coal-mining states being disproportionately likely to die from pneumoconiosis (black lung).
For the physicians out there – the authors of the study noted the importance of categorizing causes of death accurately on death certificates. “It would not take many systematic miscodes involving an unusual cause of death for it to appear on this type of map,” they write.
You can also visit this article on Slate about fun with maps that go viral, which clearly shows how manipulating data can give you some interesting results.