Sizing up the Odds: Gambling With Your Health

A recent book helps men (and women) assess the odds when facing tough healthcare decisions.


The odds of winning the Powerball jackpot hover somewhere around 1 in 146 million. So the thinking man wouldn't spend a dollar to play unless the jackpot was at least $146,000,001, right? Well, let's face it, when it comes to sizing up odds, a lot of us guys aren't always thinking that clearly. Significantly more men than women gamble, after all, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling.

Erik Rifkin, a coauthor of The Illusion of Certainty: Health Benefits and Risks, wants to help us be a bit smarter about how we play the odds, at least when our health, rather than our wealth, is what's at stake. Rifkin's primary objective in writing the book was to help people—including men—do a better job of understanding the health statistics constantly being heaved at us about risks and benefits. He and I came up with five ways you can avoid misinterpreting risk.

And for the compulsive gamblers out there, here are some stats, courtesy of a Canadian organization that helps men with gambling problems, to chew on:

  • You are more likely to die of a flesh-eating disease (1 in 1 million) than to win that Powerball lottery.
    • You are also more likely to be killed by lightning (1 in 56,439) than win the lottery.
      • If you drive 10 miles to buy a ticket for that lottery, you are more likely to be killed in a traffic accident along the way than you are to win the jackpot.
        • Imagine you are standing blindfolded on a football field holding a pin. A friend has released an ant on the field. Your chance of piercing that ant with your pin is about 1 in 14 million.