You know Rudy Guliani — the former Mayor and Presidential Candidate, quite accurately described by Senator Joe Biden as thinking a sentence consists of three parts: a noun, a verb and “9/11.” Leaving aside the myriad reasons that Guliani (and most of the Republicans running for President in general) are bad for most of us, there’s now evidence of effects on health. And we’re not just talking health insurance coverage.
Actually, it’s not Rudy in particular. The NY Times reports that living in fear can actually increase the risk of heart attacks and other cardio-vascular problems. Last week, an article published in the Archives of General Psychiatry reports on a study that started tracking health problems of more than 2,700 Americans. The study began before September 11, 2001, but after the attacks, the researchers started keeping tabs on people’s fears of terrorism. FDR had it right when he said “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.” It turns out that the most fearful people were three to five times as likely to have a diagnosis of new cardiovascular ailments.
Now, you might think this would make sense if you were, say, living near Ground Zero or in Washington, DC. But most of the people in the study were, in fact, living in those far-off remote places where a terrorist attack is extremely unlikely, with no intimate connections to the attacks or any of the victims. (You know, those places sucking up large amounts of “Homeland Protection” money, in the unlikely event that there is an actual Al Qaeda attack on Frozen Testicle, Montana).
A third to a half of people surveyed say they’re personally worried about dying in a terrorist attack. According to the study, you have a greater chance of drowning in a toilet (which, itself, is pretty horrid to contemplate, but when was the last time you heard that happening?) than being killed in a terrorist attack. And, as Darth Cheney is fond of reminding us, we haven’t had another attack on US soil in the last seven years.
There are, of course, some problems with this study. One is that there is no way to show a direct “cause-and-effect” between fear and heart problems. There are, of course, a myriad of factors that come into play with cardiovascular disease (though the study did factor in the obvious ones like smoking, obesity, other stressful life events). According to the researchers, though, if the 6% of the sample that claimed to be very worried about attacks were extrapolated to the general population, we have about 10,000,000 people on edge. No wonder Bush whipped up a 3 million vote majority by scaring the shit out of the populace.
As the political season heats up, I’m bracing for another round of “raising the threat levels” from the folks at Homeland Security. (Wasn’t it strange that all those announcements ended just after the last Presidential election?). Meanwhile, I’ll continue to regularly take the PATH trains into the “pit” of Ground Zero and walk around NY City without seeing a threat around every corner. There’s realistic fear, but there’s also irrational fear. This study is another reminder that we should keep our wits about us.