21 Weird Health Facts That Everyone Should Know (Pt 1)
Statistically, there's an overwhelming chance that you kind of feel like shit right now. In a world full of scientific miracles and mountains of data about what makes humans function, it's kind of weird how much it sucks to get out of bed. There are all sorts of bizarre reasons for it, and this enormous list is just scratching the surface ...
We're In A Sex Crisis
This article features a litany of stats about how American pork nozzles are withering from disuse. In 1991, 54% of high schoolers said they'd had sex, while today it's just 40%. In the previous generation, only 5% said they remained virgins into adulthood, and now it's 15%. Sex frequency has dropped 13% among adults ... you get the idea. This is all happening in an era when casual hookups are supposedly less stigmatized than ever. I don't think people appreciate how weird this is -- the more comfortable we are talking and thinking about sex, the less we actually want to do it.
Why? Well, I lied in the opening sentence about genitals going unused -- masturbation rates have skyrocketed in that same timeframe, according to that first link. We're a society that is, collectively, just absolutely going to town on our meat. The amount of porn being consumed is so astronomical that there's no practical way to measure it. Forget about actual porn outlets like Pornhub -- how many billions of amateur photos are viewed just on the NSFW "Gone Wild" subreddits in a month? Or Snapchat? You might as well be trying to measure how many dirty thoughts all of humanity has in a year.
Granted, this meat-beating renaissance may be more of a symptom than the cause, but good luck nailing that down. You've got an overall decline in long-term relationships (singles have less sex), people moving out of their parents' homes later (nobody wants Mom to barge in while you're riding the beef train), higher stress levels that are often tied to employment, and a decline in social skills due to less face-to-face interaction. Hey, speaking of which ...
We're In A Loneliness Crisis In General
Nearly half of Americans complain of feeling lonely, and young people have it the worst. More than half of us say we feel like no one knows us very well, and 40% say we feel isolated. Oh, and they've found that social isolation shortens your lifespan as much as smoking and obesity. People are annoying to be around, and also you'll die without them.
Once again, there are so many reasons for this that they could fill a huge, boring book. We've traded close real-life relationships for a larger volume of loose online relationships -- people who can wish you a happy birthday and compliment your outfit on Instagram, but can't smell the liquor on your breath or drive you to rehab. We normally meet friends at work, but more of us are working from home and aren't staying at the same job for as long.
To give you an idea of how complicated a brew this is, one contributor is thought to be sleep deprivation. The sleep-deprived brain doesn't like to devote energy to socializing, is quick to get angry, and is just not fun to be around in general. So where you find a chronically sleep-deprived person, you find a lonely person. In fact ...
We're In A Sleep Deprivation Crisis Too
The amount of sleep teenagers get has been declining for decades, causing all sorts of health problems up to and including freaking suicide. But it doesn't get any better for adults -- worldwide, two-thirds of them aren't getting enough sleep, which the CDC and WHO have declared an epidemic.
I don't have to tell you the reasons for this, because you're living them. There are the phones and tablets you take to bed with you (which not only distract you from sleep but also screw up your hormones with the glow from the screen), irregular work/homework schedules, social pressure from both ends (if you sleep late it means you're lazy, if you go to bed early it means you're a nerdy loser), and a habit of pounding caffeine all day to get you through, not realizing it's the reason you're tossing and turning at 2 a.m. (some people can feel the effects of caffeine for days after consuming it).
Lots of us will then try to self-medicate ourselves to sleep, maybe with a supplement like melatonin (but note that the doses they sell over the counter can actually screw up your sleep very badly) or with marijuana, even though science has no idea if it actually helps. And if you hated hearing that last bit, you'll definitely hate this ...
Marijuana Is Actually Terrible For Teens
While the war on drugs has been some monstrous bullshit, it's easy to over-correct in the other direction. While weed seems to do a good job of keeping people off opioids, that doesn't mean you shouldn't freak out if you find your teenager with a joint. Adolescent use of marijuana increases the chances of psychosis later. Young users are 60% less likely to graduate college and seven times more likely to commit suicide. They show lower cognitive performance and brain function. Those effects are much less bad if you can delay pot use until at least age 17.
Remember that part of a drug being illegal is that it's really hard to study the effects, and there's a lot we still don't know. For instance, one study found that the THC in marijuana is a great stress reliever ... at low doses. At higher doses, it actually increased anxiety. Lots of you will wave off the negative stuff above, saying the cause and effect goes the other way -- people with existing depression/anxiety/etc gravitate to smoking weed. But that's actually the point; if you're using anything to self-medicate a condition, you need to talk to a doctor. Anything that's powerful enough to profoundly change your life is also powerful enough to fuck you up pretty badly.
Some "Harder" Drugs May Actually Be Safer Than We Think
In case you think I'm about to tell you that the only drug you really need is the love of Jesus Christ, I'll instead point out that psychedelic drugs like LSD do not seem to have mental health risks (they seem to help in a lot of cases, in fact), and mushrooms are the safest recreational drug on the market. This is my point: Our cultural perception of what's friendly and safe versus weird and risky is all farted up. And on that note ...
Alcohol Is A Fucking Public Health Catastrophe
Yeah, nothing tops alcohol when it comes to creating pure, gut-wrenching human tragedy. America is in the middle of a devastating alcoholism epidemic, with rates having shot up almost 50% in just 11 years. Alcohol kills almost 90,000 Americans a year (once you add in drunk driving accidents and all that) and an astonishing 2.8 million people a year worldwide. It plays a role in 10% of all premature adult deaths on the planet. It may be draining more than half a trillion dollars from the global economy every year.
If, say, a virus was causing that exact damage, all of the world's governments would be in a howling panic. Are you old enough to remember the worst of the AIDS crisis in the U.S.? Well, that was only a small fraction of alcohol's current body count.
But if you mention this aloud, some helpful bystander will say, "Uh, you want to make alcohol illegal? Have you not heard of a little thing called prohibition, sugar-dick?" But it doesn't have to be about changing the law; it can be about how we as a culture think about which drugs are actually killing us. In most social settings, if you whip out a bag of shrooms, everyone freaks the hell out. But pop open a bottle of wine, and even grandma is grinning in anticipation of the harmless Fun Juice.
In fact, go to the women's clothing aisle and count the number of pieces of weirdly zealous pro-wine apparel:
Hey, did you know that American wine consumption is up 64% in just the last 20 years? Speaking of people having no idea what they're putting in their bodies ...
We Apparently Imagined The Whole "Gluten-Free Is Better" Thing
If you don't know the origin of all the "Gluten Free" thing, it's based on the idea that gluten (a protein found in wheat and other grains) causes all sorts of vague health problems, from an upset stomach to "foggy mind." Now, there is an actual condition that makes you allergic to gluten -- that's celiac disease, and it affects less than 1% of the population. As for everybody else, nobody has any damned idea if this is even a thing. Studies suggest there might possibly be some other type of allergy at play? But probably not? Here's what I know: People get really mad about it.
This kind of thing is incredibly hard to pin down, because there are thousands of factors in your life that can cause stomach problems and brain fog, from stress to sleep habits to allergies to drug interactions to any number of other bullshit in your diet. What I also know is that gluten-free foods otherwise have no known benefit. In fact, GF options are usually less nutritious, even though they often cost twice as much. In other words, a huge chunk of the several billion dollars spent on gluten-free foods is most likely wasted, because there are surely cheaper and easier placebos out there.
There's No Evidence That Genetically Modified Food Is Harmful In Any Way
I know I've brought this up before, but my pet peeve is people who claim to care about science and evidence and then rail against "GMO" foods as evil corporate "frankenfood."
This has been tested exhaustively for decades, and there's a clear consensus: Scientists have never found negative health effects from eating genetically engineered food, and the benefits of GM crops to the developing world are enormous (articles that scaremonger about GMOs tend to ignore poor countries completely). Remember, all food is engineered. Freaking out about GMOs isn't much more scientific than freaking out about vaccines. And while we're on the subject of people ignoring data ...
Posting Calorie Counts On Menus Doesn't Change Eating Habits
Yeah, you know how they started making restaurants display the calorie counts of their meals on menus so people could make informed decisions? That appears to make hardly any difference in what people actually buy. "This chicken sandwich is four thousand calories? Holy shit, it must be amazing."
Part of the problem they were trying to solve is that restaurant eating is supposed to be one of the big factors in the modern obesity epidemic, since (especially in the U.S.) they love to serve 400% as much food as anyone actually needs, or even wants. Well, this study found no evidence that portion sizes are to blame for obesity, and that there was no difference between heavy and light subjects' portion size preference. It comes down to how much of the portion you actually eat, and how often.
Oh, and despite everything we've learned and done, the obesity epidemic only keeps getting worse. We still have no idea how to fix this!
Fashion Models Aren't More Likely To Have Eating Disorders
I'm throwing this on the list because I always suspected the "anorexic fashion model" trope was more of a snide insult than concern for any model's health (possibly because it's usually brought up in the form of a hacky joke). Well, based on what limited data we have, models are apparently no more likely to have eating disorders than anyone else.
Don't get me wrong, they do report lots of pressure to lose weight from their employers, and are constantly dieting for that reason. But "dieting for my job" isn't a disorder by any definition of the word. These people tend to have a positive body image, and studies don't show that they're more likely to have full-blown eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia than the general population.
Question: Are you relieved to hear this, or do you kind of want them to have eating disorders? If it's the latter, maybe stop and think about that when you get a moment.
Everything Else You've Heard About Food And Health Is Also Wrong
We could really do this for the rest of the day. High-fat milk is better for you than skim. Eating red meat apparently isn't bad for your heart. Schools that banned peanuts had the same number of allergic reactions among kids as ones that didn't. Studying anything that has to do with diet is a goddamned nightmare of bad data and hilariously inaccurate self-reporting. ("I ate ONE stick of celery and gained four pounds!").
I would say that we'll likely never solve the problem, but keep in mind the obesity epidemic only goes back to about 1980 -- it's not like this is some fundamental corruption in the human spirit. If our habits changed that quickly to make us fat, we can turn it around just as fast, right? Wasn't P90X supposed to fix all this?
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