Editor's Page: Don’t Worry So Much

The health risks with which you should—and shouldn’t—be concerned.

Photo: Linny Morris

With every issue, we aim to be your “owner’s manual to the city,” so that you’ll understand how and why things work in Honolulu; meet the people who make things happen; and get more out of life in the Islands. Michael Keany’s piece on the ins and outs of the tow-truck industry certainly does that. John Heckathorn’s article on the late Herb Kane, a legend in Hawaiian art and history, does so, too. Our annual Best Doctors list is extremely popular with readers as a guide to the top physicians in town. But my personal favorite this month is a relatively straightforward reader-service piece by Tiffany Hill, “What’s Killing Us?

Hill looked at the leading causes of death in Hawaii, because information, as the old saying goes, is power. If you know which risks you’re more likely to face, you’ll be able to make better decisions, whether about your own health and lifestyle, or about where you direct your support for medical research. 

Information is also liberating. We often worry about the wrong things, for irrational reasons. Would it surprise you that traffic fatalities didn’t even come close to making the list of top causes of death? In fact, more than five times as many kamaaina die of lung cancer every year than die in traffic accidents, 546 compared to 104, respectively, in 2008.

Accidents kill otherwise healthy people suddenly, on public roads, so maybe they seem more threatening, more newsworthy, despite posing far less danger to the community. But you have never heard, and will never hear, a local TV news anchor say, “A 63-year-old Kailua man succumbed to lung cancer today. Authorities say this is the Island’s 23rd victim of the disease this month alone.”

Actually, traffic-accident coverage is a pet peeve of mine, and seeing the stats Hill looked up only frustrated me more. Why isn’t something that is five times deadlier than traffic accidents newsworthy?  What are the priorities in these newsrooms? That last question answers itself. The priorities are right there on our TV screens—the mangled car, the flares, the sheet-covered body on the road. What a waste of a perfectly good First Amendment.

Daily media coverage gravitates to the sensational, the spectacular, the emotional and, I believe, is a large part of why we fear the wrong things and end up with huge disconnects between the risks we face and the precautions we take. Magazines have the luxury of time to take a more measured approach, to set aside the onslaught of headlines and ask, what’s really going on here?

In 2008, 9,627 people passed away out of a population of nearly 1.3 million. That’s just seven-tenths of 1 percent of us. So the real story? Most of us, most of the time, live good and healthy lives. There are things you can do to make sure that’s true for you for as long as possible. For the times when it isn’t possible, there are people in the Islands, such as the physicians on the Best Doctors list or the doctors working on cures and treatments we found for “What’s Killing Us?” who are here to help.