The tendency is for parents to go all out to protect their young children from potential accidents.  But fatal accidents are rare for yong people before the age of 15.  Is there a cost to protecting against an unlikely event if that protectiveness contributes to other, much more common sources of death when the child gets older?


The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, November 2, 2009. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at

How Your Child Will Die

"Here in the United States , we have the technology to defer death, so we often pretend it will never really happen to us. There is always another procedure, always a cure in sight if not in hand. But in our sober moments we recognize that we will indeed die, and that we have precious little control over when it will happen."

Odds are, sooner or later, your child will die of coronary artery disease (CAD) - fatty deposits in the arteries. Heart disease is the number one cause of death for Americans - strokes are third - and the large majority of both are due to CAD. Diabetes - which shares risk factors with CAD - is the sixth leading cause of death.

The bad news - Americans' death rate is higher than most comparable economically advanced (and even several developing) countries. The good news - Americans' death rates are declining. More bad news, younger Americans are rapidly developing their risk profiles for CAD and diabetes, with as yet uncalculated results.

White Americans have a significantly lower death rate than African Americans. Americans' infant mortality rate (<1 year) is quite high compared with other societies. But, after one year, not many young people die. Fewer than 3 children in 10,000 (less than half of a hundredth of a percent) of all races ages 1-4 died in 2006, and fewer still ages 5-14.

Accidents caused only a minority of these deaths. Of all kids in America, fewer than 1 in 10,000 (less than a thousandth of a percent) died of an accident in 2006. So, if you are worrying about fatal accidents befalling your child, that doesn't happen very often. Of course, you never want it to happen, to even be a possibility. But this threat probably looms larger in parents' minds than is justified.

Here's a startling statistic - as many young people ages 15-24 kill themselves each year as 1-4 year-olds die in accidents. And the suicide rate rises for each age group thereafter. Therefore, anything you could do for kids 1-14 to lower their likelihood of killing themselves later in life would have more impact on their dying prematurely than their likelihood of dying from accidents when they are young.

Speaking strictly of deaths due to accidents, these likewise jump after age 15 - four times the rate of 25-24 year-olds die from accidents as 1-4 year-olds and eight times as many as 5-14 year-olds. Is there anything you can do for children under 14 that makes it less likely they will have fatal accidents after age 15? Does greater exposure and therefore learned ability to protect themselves accomplish this?

Maybe that's too abstract. How about this: anything your child does from ages 1-14 that lowers their likelihood of developing CAD will repay itself many times over in terms of longevity. From age 25 on, deaths from heart disease and stroke overtake the rate of deaths from accidents for children ages 1-14 - and CAD deaths rise rapidly afterwards.

We have a good answer in the latter case - exercising regularly and staying thin will reduce lifetime CAD incidence and death. Thus, if you are highly oriented towards protecting your child from fatal accidents, say by encouraging them to stay indoors, this could actually reduce their safety and life expectancy over the course of their lives.

Just a thought.