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Death - The Unavoidable!!!!!

Benjamin Franklin once said “... in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

Each year in New Zealand approximately 30,000 people die. Around 75% of these deaths occur in the retirement age of post 65. Therefore around 8,000 people die during their working lifetime.

From an insurance perspective the peak period of exposure tends to be between the ages of 30 and 54. Invariably we have spouses or partners, mortgages, and dependant family members (children or parents) we want to take care of. Business exposures, such as leases and finance, also fall in this period but they may well continue long beyond.

Interestingly the major causes of death for 30-54year olds is somewhat different to the overall population.

For the overall population the five most common causes of death are Cancer (29%), Heart Attack (18%), Stroke (9%), Chronic Lower Respiratory Disorders (6%) and Accidents (5%).

For 30-54 year olds the five most common causes of death are: Cancer (37%), Accidents (15%), Heart Attack (10%), Intentional Self Harm (8%) and Stroke (5%).

While you can’t insure against death (we insure against the financial impact on those we leave behind) you can help manage the risk by a combination of avoidance or mitigation - in essence a risk management programme.

For example, there are many publications and websites promoting healthy living as a way to reduce cancer risk. Actions you can take include:

  1. Don’t smoke - this includes avoiding second hand smoke. Smoking can lead to a number of cancers in addition to lung cancer these include but are not limited to throat, mouth, oesophagus, larynx, stomach, bladder, kidney and pancreas.
  2. Limit Alcohol Intake - higher levels of alcohol intake have been linked to liver, colon and breast cancer. It also contributes to other health related problems particularly in weight management. Alcohol also plays a part in a number of accidents which is also a major factor for early death.
  3. Don’t be overweight - as a nation we are becoming bigger.Increased weight contributes to many health related issues. It also increases the risk of uterine, breast, prostate and colon cancer.
  4. Skin Protection - in New Zealand skin cancer is prevalent. Try to avoid getting sunburnt. While many melanomas are treatable if diagnosed early there are many cases that result in death.

If we want to reduce the possibility of death through accident then we can take many actions that help. For example, road related accidents are a major contributor to early deaths. So all of the safe driving messages are relevant:

  • Don’t drink and drive
  • Allow safe following distances
  • Don’t speed
  • Don’t drive when tired
  • Be vigilant of other drivers particularly in tourist hotspots or late night Friday & Saturday (10pm – 3am) when there are more reckless drivers on the road
  • Purchase a car with greater safety features including airbags, ABS brakes, side intrusion bars and crumple zones etc.

In other aspects of life greater awareness of the prevailing risks may help. This is particularly so in dangerous pastimes or sports. For example, rock fishing, diving, motor racing etc. Occupations have varying risk and we see too many work place deaths in New Zealand with forestry and construction leading the way for casualties.

While heart attacks in the 30-54 age group are nearly half the cause of death when compared to the total population it is fair to say that action taken during this time will not only mitigate attacks during this period but surely provide benefit for the future too. The chance of heart attack and heart disease are invariably lowered by similar lifestyle choices outlined for reducing cancer. That is - don’t smoke, limit alcohol, lose weight, get active, eat healthy and manage stress and anger.

Intentional self harm is a frighteningly high statistic at 8% for the age group. It is often linked to mental health issues. Maintaining good mental health is no guarantee - irrespective of what action is taken. Having said that a number of factors are deemed to have a positive influence - from a healthy diet and exercise to managing stress. Good sleep patterns, avoidance of drugs and good support from family and friends will all help.

To avoid the risk of stroke what you need to do is similar to the above in terms of lifestyle – diet, exercise, weight management and not smoking.

So, while we won’t avoid death we can manage the risk a little better with not too much effort. You can still insure for the financial impact it may have but in an ideal world it would be far better to get past those major financial responsibilities still on the right side of the grass.

*Information for this article was sourced from Ministry of Health website and Russell Hutchinson of Chatswood Consulting

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