|A new analysis of mortality
rates in the United States during different times of the year has found
that people are more likely to die during the holidays – namely on Christmas
Day and New Year’s Day.
A group of sociologists analyzed
all the official death certificates during a 25-year period in the U.S.
between 1979 and 2004, and conducted that there has been an excess of 42,325
natural deaths in the two weeks around the Christmas holiday period.
This excess is above and beyond what would be considered the normal seasonal
increase in the death rate in the U.S.
The study, published in the
journal Social Science & Medicine, is from researchers David Phillips,
Gwendolyn Barker and Kimberly Brewer. Professor Phillips of the University
of California stated that the findings are “not trivial” and indicate that
more people die in hospital emergency wards, or are DOA, on Christmas Day,
Boxing Day and New Year’s Day than any other days of the year.
Phillips said that the team’s
analysis of 57.5 million death certificates shows that the chance of dying
during the holiday period increases “somewhere between 3% and 9% depending
on the demographic group you look at, and between 1% and 10%, depending
on the cause of death analyzed.”
The results of this study
pose more questions about the reasons behind this trend in excessive death
It is speculated that psychological
stress can make a difference, but for this to occur so specifically on
a precise day, and for a huge range of diseases, makes it an unlikely sole
Other possibilities are such
things as emergency department overcrowding and staff shortages, winter
travel, cold weather and substance abuse. However, none of these
offer singluar convincing evidence of determining the trend.
With a terminal illness,
such as cancer, the rise of deaths in hospitals at this time of year, is
cancelled out by decrease of deaths in other medical settings like hospices
or even at home.
Phillips claims the next
steps in research is to follow up and try and identify the mechanisms that
contribute to this spike in the death rate at Christmas. “For now, the
message, is to pay attention to your health, and to your health resources,
particularly on these two occasions.”