The grim reaper.

The nine big ones

Okay, we know it's all a crap shoot, good health. Or so we keep telling ourselves, because bad things happen to good people all the time, right? What can a person do? Hope for the best? Of course. But just because crap happens doesn't mean you can't do something to step around as much of it as possible. In fact, according to a Journal of the American Medical Association study, nine mostly preventable causes of death in the United States kill nearly one million people a year. Avoid these risky behaviors and you become at least a lot smaller target in that grim reaper's shooting gallery we call life.

Cigarettes: 400,000.

Do we really need to be reminded yet again how bad this is? Geez Louise. Yet nearly a quarter of us still smoke.

Poor nutrition/lack of exercise: 400,000.

The two tend to go together to cause obesity, and as we know, more than two thirds of us are overweight, if not walking dirigibles.

Alcohol abuse: 30, 000, plus 20,000 in accidents related to alcohol.

Boozers risk liver disease and cancer, but what a lot of people forget is that, as a Fargo ER doc noted, "The emergency room would be a pretty quiet place if it wasn't for alcohol." About 40 percent of North Dakota's 2005 traffic fatalities were related to drinking.

Infectious disease: 80,000.

Much of this is in impoverished areas where hygiene is low, but people who neglect getting shots and don't get to the doctor when they're sick also contribute to the statistic.

Toxic agents (even some candles!): 60,000.

Some of these are obvious (stay away from benzene). Others not so much. Candles? Some scented ones may cause cancer. If they don't burn the house down. In any case, try to avoid obviously hazardous chemicals.

HIV: 14,000.

Know your partner, or be more careful. Considering statistics on how many students have unprotected sex after drinking, you might say this is also related to alcohol as a preventable cause of death.

Hepatitis: 5,800.

Also sexually transmitted.

Illegal drug use: 15,000.

Addiction is the grim reaper's close friend.

Skin cancer: 8,000.

Not absolutely proven that it's related to relentless pursuit of the perfect tan, but some pretty strong evidence. And we are sure that sun exposure causes wrinkles--just take a look at that nice smooth place where the sun never shines.

Total preventable deaths:

Based on a 1993 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Fargo fit.

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