By Lise Johnson and Eric Chundler /Guardian
As the miracles of technological innovation continue to improve our lives, they also make it more complicated. There are clearly more things to worry about, but which should we worry about more? And what about the anxieties that have been keeping us awake at night for years? Here, we weigh up the relative risks of 5 everyday threats – and give them a worry score.
Cell phones communicate via radio frequency, a form of electromagnetic radiation. The word ‘radiation’ makes you think of gamma rays, which sound terrifying. But visible light is also a form of electromagnetic radiation. So not all radiation is the same. If you talk on your mobile for a long time, you may notice your ear gets hot. The word ‘heat’ is shorthand for ‘energy transfer’, and serious questions have been raised about the biological effects of exposure to this level of energy.
Can you avoid it? You don’t have to carry a mobile phone, but, even so, it’s hard to avoid radio frequency fields.
Could it harm you? It’s unlikely your mobile will give you cancer, but it isn’t yet clear how unlikely.
Potential risk: As the research isn’t clear, we have assigned a middling-level score.
Worry score: 2
We eat a lot of added sugar. Way, way too much. Sugar consumption is linked to tooth decay, obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. These conditions lead to risk factors for other diseases, such as cancer, and blindness. Sucrose is naturally found in fruit. The problem arises when you remove the sugar and consume it in a different context.
Can you avoid it? Not entirely.
Could it harm you? Sugar is in most processed foods. You can cut back, but it is hard to cut it out completely.
Potential risk: Obesity, heart disease, diabetes and tooth decay are all common. They can also be very serious.
Worry score: 5
According to NHS figures, death from general anaesthetic is very rare, occurring in around 1 in every 100,000 cases; in the US the statistic is the same. A history of smoking, obstructive sleep apnea, obesity and other conditions can also increase the risk of complications. Anaesthesia carries some risks but consider the alternative – few people would refuse the benefits and comfort of pain-free surgery.
Can you avoid it? If you need surgery, there’s not much you can do to avoid it.
Could it harm you? General anaesthesia is safe for most people, most of the time.
Potential risk: The prospect of waking up during surgery is terrifying, and the side effects of general anaesthesia vary. In rare instances, it can kill.
Worry score: 2
Theme park rides
Ride design and safety have come a long way since the early days of roller coasters when cars sometimes flew off their tracks or failed to stop. Based on data from a limited number of theme parks in the US, the National Safety Council reported 1,508 injuries (0.8 injuries per million rides) in 2015. Statistically, you are more likely to be hurt on your way to a theme park than at one.
Can you avoid it? Injuries caused by theme park rides are almost 100% avoidable: just don’t ride them.
Could it harm you? The chance of suffering an injury on an amusement park ride is very low.
Potential risk: Minor bumps and bruises are much more common than catastrophic injuries.
Worry score: 3
David Hockney had to be rescued by firefighters from a lift a few weeks ago in Amsterdam, yet his experience isn’t a common one. The likelihood of an elevator falling down a shaft is very low because of several safety mechanisms built into the design of them. Simple common sense can reduce the risk further. Before you enter a lift, let passengers off and, if it looks packed, wait for the next one.
Can you avoid it? You can often take the stairs instead – and for a bit of exercise, you probably should.
Could it harm you? The safety mechanisms built into lifts make the chance of one of them falling out of control highly unlikely.
Potential risk: Severe injury or death is the likely outcome of such an unlikely event.
Worry score: 2
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