Monday, April 19, 2010

Rates of Incidence of Various Conditions in the United States

The other day in the car, Stu started pondering aloud about the public attention that various worthy causes get, and whether autism gets its proportionate due.  This led me to spend way too many hours researching the prevalence of several conditions in the United States, and the amount of public funding that goes toward research on these subjects (as filtered through the NIH in 2009).  I got most of my figures from the NIH website, and from, as well as other sources.  My calculations here are totally non-scientific, but interesting nonetheless.

Reports of the prevalence of autism in the US vary wildly, but I've frequently seen the figure 1 in 91.  To put this in perspective, here's the rate of incidence of a random sampling of some other well-known conditions:
ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) - 1 in 250,000 (0.0004%)
Epilepsy - 1 in 118 (0.85%)
Herpes - 1 in 4 (25%) - EWWW!
Homelessness - 0.6% to 15% of population (reporting varies widely)
Hunger - 1 in 6 kids at risk of hunger (16.7%); 3.8% of US households have an adult go hungry at least one day during the year
Lung Cancer - 1 in 1,605 (0.06%)
Lyme Disease - 1 in 2,719 (0.04%)
Meningitis, Bacterial - 3 in 100,000 (0.003%)
Meningitis, Viral - 10 in 100,000 (0.01%)
Multiple Sclerosis - 1 in 700 (0.14%)
Muscular Dystrophy - 1 in 651,450 (0.00015%)
Narcolepsy - 1 in 1,359 (0.07%)
Parkinson's Disease - 1 in 272 (0.37%)
SIDS - 2 per 1,000 live births (0.2%)
US armed forces - historically less than 1% of population
For my fellow geeks, I present you this chart of 2009 NIH research spending per person affected:

Awareness is nice, but money gets more research done.


  1. Your ALS figures are incorrect. And even if they were correct - there is still No drug, no treatment, no cure and is always fatal. It kills you locking you inside your body. Your mind stays fully intact while you lose every muscle, and in the case of my friend, even her eyes cannot blink. You choke on your own saliva because you can't swallow and eventually (2-5 years) you die by respiratory failure. It affects people above 20 years old although some children @ 15 years of age have died from ALS. Lou Gehrig died of it 70 years ago. It's been around for 150+ years. It kills families witnessing their loved ones be taken in such a cruel way. some people have it in their families & it wipes out generations. It deserves national attention. It can happen to anyone, for no reason whatsoever. We need funding badly and your numbers are way off.

  2. No offense intended, Anonymous. ALS is a horrible disease and I'm glad so much research is underway. I got my stats on that from and somewhat more nuanced/complicated stats at

  3. This is interesting. Thanks for sharing. I personally know more people affected by autism than anything in your list. The only other one is MS. I had an ex-boyfriend's mom who had it. My husband's dear friend from HS has MS and it is devasating.


Keep it civil, people.