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Holiday Season Kills: Deaths Spike Between Christmas And New Year's Day

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The number of deaths that occur in the United States around the Christmas holiday is higher compared with other times of the year.

The spike, which was identified by sociologist David Phillips after looking at death certificates in the United States, has been confirmed by other studies that used other large data sets such as those from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Christmas Holiday Effect

People are more likely to die of natural causes from Dec. 25 through New Year's day compared with any other time of the year, a phenomenon called the Christmas holiday effect.

Many doctors and researchers think the spike is weather-related. The explanation is that the colder temperatures make people's body more vulnerable to complications from flu, heart attack, and other ailments.

Findings of a new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association on Dec. 22., however, crossed out cold weather as a possible reason for death spikes during the holiday season.

Josh Knight, from the University of Melbourne, and colleagues looked at 25 years' worth of mortality data in New Zealand, where Christmas and New Year's day occur during the summer season.

The researchers found that even when the Christmas season in this country occurs during a warmer weather, the number of deaths around the holiday season are still up by 4 percent compared with the average for the rest of the year.

The findings suggest that the holidays themselves are factors that contribute to increased mortality regardless of the effects of weather and health problems linked with colder temperatures.

What Causes Spike In Deaths During The Christmas Season?

Several culprits are speculated to drive the mortality rate up during the festive season. The holidays, for instance, can be stressful for many people given the increased family, social, and financial obligations. The stress can contribute to higher blood pressure levels and may aggravate risk factors for heart disease.

The kind of food served during the holidays as well as the numerous opportunities to partake them may also have a role. Alcohol consumption likewise tend to increase during the festive season, which can also impact the health of some people.

The researchers said that the so-called displacement of death and delays in seeking medical care could also be factors. Displacement of death means that for people who are already ill, they may attempt to postpone dying in a bid to experience one more holiday season with their loved ones.

"There is the possibility of a displacement effect, in which mortality is being concentrated during the holiday period rather than directly causing additional mortality; however, the use of a different method of estimating the expected deaths will be required to fully explore this issue," the researchers wrote in their study.

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