Getting Hit by a Car After Winning the Lottery

Sometimes when we talk about being born in the United States, we talk about it as “winning the lottery” – as the wealthiest, most powerful country with robust economic opportunity, how lucky to be born here.  But what if many of those opportunities could never be enjoyed because of early death or disease? What if we aren’t as lucky as we thought?


It turns out, we’re not.


According to a new analysis on adolescent health by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) and a Lancet commission, the top killer for young people ages 10-24 in the United States are road accidents. And if it’s not number one, it’s number two or in the top ten for every region and country on earth – high income, low income, developing or developed – road injuries are causing more death and health loss for young people than any other disease or injury out there. The stats don’t discriminate based on a country’s economic status: vehicles on the road are killing us.


From Nigeria to Brazil to Canada to China – road injuries are the top, if not number one, contributor to death and health loss.  In the U.S. alone, road injuries killed 9,596 young people between the ages of 10 and 24 in 2013 but their contribution to poor health was even greater; road injuries were responsible for taking 672,602 healthy years off (or DALYs, disability adjusted life years) of young Americans lives, contributing to an enormous loss of healthy life years for our adolescents in the States.


I was struck by the widespread danger cars and traffic accidents pose to young people in my own country and across the globe – why aren’t more people talking about this? Why is getting in a car or on a motorbike not seen as truly taking your life in your hands?  I think of my friends who are afraid of flying in an airplane or the Ebola outbreak and subsequent scare of the last few years – neither of those risks come close to the true danger of crossing the street or getting in a vehicle, yet more people are afraid of them than something we do every day and it’s killing us – so why aren’t we afraid of it?


This is why the work Minerva client, IHME, does is so important. They gather health data from all over the world, for over 5,000 diseases and injuries, and they drill down and look at what the numbers really tell us about what ails us…and what doesn’t. In many cases, like with adolescent health, this data has never been aggregated or reported on, so policy and funding decisions have essentially been made blind, sometimes assuming that a “popular” disease is hurting more people than it actually is. My guess is, is that road injuries are killing and harming so many young people, across the board, indiscriminately, because simply, we didn’t know that it was something that needed preventing, we just didn’t have the data. Now, the disease burden caused by road injuries, among the other top contributors to youth health loss like suicide and depression, back pain and drug use, have been brought to light by this report – and policy makers can and should act swiftly to address these issues.


Here’s what else IHME and the Lancet Commission found: it’s never been more important to invest in the health of young people than now. As the largest generation of adolescents in the world’s history comes of age (1.8 Billion), this is the time to take action in preventative care. To quote the Commission, “Investments in adolescent health and wellbeing bring a triple dividend of benefits now, into future adult life, and for the next generation of children.” This is also true, no matter the economic standing of a country. Investing in young people is a key to a healthier and more prosperous future, so that for more countries, being born there can be like winning the lottery.


About The Author

Joy Portella

Joy Portella

Founder and President

Joy leads the Minerva Strategies team, providing senior-level direction to every client. Her skills have been honed through more than two decades of experience helping organizations more effectively communicate with media, donors, policymakers and other key audiences.

Prior to establishing Minerva, Joy spent five years as director of communications at the international humanitarian organization Mercy Corps. She guided Mercy Corps’ messaging, media relations, and crisis communications, and traveled extensively to document work in global hotspots including the Horn of Africa, the Gaza Strip, and North Korea. Previously, Joy worked for a decade at leading communication firms – Burson-Marsteller, Ruder Finn and SS+K – in New York and Washington DC.