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October 27, 2020

Is election season bad for your health? Here's what the evidence says.

Daily Briefing

    A study recently published in PNAS found that, during the two days following America's 2016 presidential election, the occurrence of heart attacks and strokes among U.S. residents increased significantly—findings that add to research suggesting political campaigns may have an impact on our health.

    The 2020 elections—and what it means for health care

    Study details

    For the new study, researchers looked at hospitalizations for acute cardiovascular disease among data that included about three million adults in the Kaiser Permanente Southern California health system during the weeks prior to and following 2016's presidential election.

    The researchers found that, when compared with the same two days the previous week, the number of hospitalizations for cardiovascular disease among the patients included in the study increased by 61% during the two days after the election. In addition, the occurrence of heart attacks increased by 67% and the occurrence of stroke increased by 59%, the researchers founds. These results were similar when accounting for patients' age, race, and sex, according to the researchers.

    Did the election cause the increases?

    The researchers noted that the exact cause of the increases in heart attacks and strokes among the patients studied is unknown. However, the researchers theorized that, given how other studies have found increases in cardiovascular issues after traumatic public events, election stress may play a similar role, according to the New York Times' "Well."

    Hitinder Gurm, an associate CCO at the University of Michigan's Frankel Cardiovascular Center, said he agreed with the researchers' conclusion that "sociopolitical stress is the most likely factor that explains the findings." Gurm said, "It is hard to think of another explanation that can explain this association."

    Takeaways for providers and patients

    Matthew Mefford, a postdoctoral research fellow at Kaiser Permanente Southern California and the lead author on the study, said the new findings are "important" and "should really encourage health care providers to pay more attention to the ways that stress is linked to political campaigns and how election outcomes may directly impact health."

    Likewise, David Williams, a professor of public health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said the study should serve as "a wake-up call for every health professional that we need to pay greater attention to the ways in which stress linked to political campaigns, rhetoric, and election outcomes can directly harm public health."

    When it comes to patients, Gurm said the most important thing people can take away from the study "is to have a heart-healthy lifestyle," including avoiding tobacco, ensuring their blood pressure is controlled, exercising, maintaining a healthy weight, and ensuring their cholesterol levels aren't too high (Bakalar, "Well," New York Times, 10/20; Swain, Healio News, 10/12).

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