A catchy headline for the impossible
It always makes me laugh when news articles report how research has shown that “X” intervention or “Y” activity reduces the risk of death. No human in history has been able to avoid death, ever. Yet our suspension of disbelief on cheating the Grim Reaper seems to capture readers.1
Death is catchy
What news writers are referring to is the term “mortality” and studies on “mortality rate”. In scientific literature, mortality rate refers to a measure of the frequency of occurrence of death in a defined population in a certain area during a specified interval.2 But “X” intervention decreases risk of death due to a certain thing under 60 if you do it enough and regularly and don’t have the following risk factors (or get hit by a bus first) = not so catchy.
I learnt recently from a leading Medium writer (Thanks Tim Denning) that disaster words are great for headlines. Like Romans gathered in the Colosseum to watch slaughter, what is it that attracts us to these morbid statistics? (Though morbidity actually refers to rates of illness not death. Cheerful stuff.) While the media could certainly sharpen their accuracy of the use of “mortality” and “death” in their scripts, I am encouraged that they are pointing to more positive outcomes beyond avoiding joining the choir invisible.
Trends in Death and Longevity
It is promising to see terms like “Longevity”, “living longer” and various health benefits starting to govern the headlines. Or maybe that’s just the ones the algorithms are feeding me because they know I don’t click on the death and destruction ones. I wonder also if it is guided by web search trends. As you can see, the topic “mortality” (red line) has enjoyed an appropriate flat line over the last year compared to the term Longevity (blue line). Beeeeeeeeeeeeeep.
Whereas comparison for “Living longer” (blue line) versus “Death” (red line), uh oh, the Grim Reaper dominates on this one.
In the hope of motivating more people to get out and about to get those endorphin-raising, health-protecting benefits, I’ll be focusing my headlines on more positive and realistic gains. I’d rather my readers experience some positive emotions in our short time together, than bear mortality in mind (growl). What sort of articles will you invest more time in reading? Ones that promote the positive emotion, or ones that drive fear?
None of us can beat death, but we can potentially delay our meeting. Here’s to the pursuit of those things that can enhance quality of life like walking (watch out for those buses), viewing art, connecting with others and a dose of fun until we shuffle off this mortal coil.
A heartening and uplifting “Good day” to you all.
Dr Zara Quail
1. Google. Search results for “reduces risk of death”. 2022
2. Hernandez JBR, Kim PY. Epidemiology Morbidity And Mortality. 2021. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan.
3. Google Trends Graph of search terms Longevity compared to mortality for the News category from July 2021 to July 2022.
4. Google Trends Graph of search terms Living longer compared to Death for the News category from July 2021 to July 2022.
With apologies to the Monty Python Parrot sketch. https://fb.watch/ecX8YH8dTe/