Why January Is the Deadliest Month of the Year

January can be a time to relax.
January can be a time to relax. / Jeffrey Coolidge/Stone via Getty Images

Hypochondriacs beware: The following data may not make your new year a pleasant one. Longstanding research and trends have pinpointed January as the deadliest month of any year.

The pattern was examined by Live Science contributor Elizabeth Rayne, who extrapolated data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) WONDER database, which logs public health records in the U.S. From 2010 to 2020, an average of 251,699 people died each January, well above the norm for other months, which can go as low as 218,102 in August or as high as 242,475 in December.

There are a number of factors that could be boosting the count, though not all of them are fully understood. One explanation is that symptoms of heart disease, which is already the leading cause of death in the U.S., can become more pronounced in cold weather, as the heart works harder to keep bodies warm. (Consumption of salty, sweet, celebratory foods doesn’t help, either.) Another is that respiratory viruses can more easily circulate when people are huddled indoors. Some deaths may also be attributable to carbon monoxide poisoning from space heaters and other heating sources.

While the emergence of COVID-19 certainly hasn’t helped those numbers, the trend was there even before the virus began to circulate in late 2019.

In 2015, sociology professor David Phillips told The Washington Post that his own examination of the WONDER data found that New Year’s Day was the deadliest on the calendar. One hypothesis is that medical personnel are on vacation, limiting staff and possibly keeping the best doctors out of hospitals when crises arise. People experiencing medical issues may also delay treatment until after the holidays. In some cases, the procrastination may prove fatal. Whatever the case, it pays to be a little more careful around the new year.

[h/t Live Science]