Don’t you love the holidays so much you could just die? A new study says that you might do exactly that.
An analysis of 57.5 million U.S. death certificates from 1979 and 2004 found an excess of 42,325 natural deaths in the two weeks before Christmas—and that’s taking into account the normal seasonal spike in winter deaths.
Overall, your chance of dying during the holiday period increases “somewhere between 3 percent and 9 percent, depending on the demographic group you’re looking at, and somewhere between 1 percent and 10 percent, depending on what cause of death you’re looking at.”
And what are the deadliest days? Christmas and New Years Day, of course: December 25, 26, and January 1. Here’s the study’s co-author, David Phillips, sociology professor at the University of California at San Diego:
It’s not trivial … We looked at all cause categories and, for nearly every one, we found an excess of deaths—particularly for people who are dying rapidly, like dead-on-arrival or dying in the emergency department.
So the numbers are clear: holidays and death go hand in hand. What’s not as clear is why. The researchers gave it their best guess:
“It’s speculated that psychological stress can make a difference,” said Phillips. “But to make a difference so quickly and so precisely bang-on Christmas and [New Year’s Day], for a huge range of diseases, makes it seem unlikely as a broad-scale explanation.”
Another explanation is the macabre possibility that ill people postpone death until symbolic occasions like the holidays. But Phillips debunks this theory, saying, “If that were the case, you’d expect not only a peak on the holiday but a compensatory drop in deaths before the holiday … No such drop is evident.”
Other reasons abound, ranging from emergency department overcrowding to winter travel to cold weather to substance abuse, but all of these are just wild guesses at this point. (Although one of the most alarming findings is that crib deaths see an unsettling spike during the holidays as well.)
In the meantime, we just wanted to give everyone a heads up. As Phillips said, “the message is to pay attention to your health, and to your health resources, particularly on these two occasions.”
—Photo by lisa211207/Photobucket