Studies into U.S. mortality rates are revealing a surprising spike, and it isn’t connected to heart disease, cancer, or even diabetes. Instead, the spike is correlated with a specific time of year: Christmas and New Year’s Day. Mortality statistics for both holidays are significantly higher than other times of year (including other holidays), amounting to around 42,325 more deaths between 1979 and 2004. Despite the correlation, researchers still aren’t sure exactly why the skew is happening. Even more bizarre is the fact that the deaths accounted for were not accidental; they were natural deaths seemingly unconnected to typical winter or holiday incidents like drunk driving accidents and fires.
- To identify patterns, researchers reviewed a total of approximately 57.5-million deaths. They found that risks increased for specific demographics between 3 percent and 9 percent, and by up to 10 percent depending on the specific cause of death.
- The rise in mortality is highest on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, but statistics also showed a more gentle slope upward in the two weeks prior to Christmas as well as the days between Christmas and New Year’s Day.
- The correlation also showed a marked increase in “people who are dying rapidly, like dead-on-arrival or dying in the emergency department.” It wasn’t immediately clear if this included heart attacks, strokes, or some other form of fatal illness.
- Stress likely accounts for a small increase in risk, but researchers don’t think it explains the sharp uptick on Christmas and New Year’s Day. Mr. Phillips, a professor of sociology at the University of California at San Diego who aided in the study, also discounts the probability of people delaying death to enjoy the holidays one last time. “If that were the case, you’d expect not only a peak on the holiday but a compensatory drop in deaths before the holiday.”
- Phillips encouraged Americans to be extra-cautious on these days, and remarked that researchers would continue to study the correlation. “The next step is for other people to follow up and figure out the mechanisms that produce this. For now, the message is to pay attention to your health, and to your health resources, particularly on these two occasions.
What are your biggest stressors over the holidays?