5 Alarming Health Trends (That No One Is Sure How To Fix)
It's hard enough to keep track of your own life, so trying to understand how humanity is doing in general is borderline impossible. On average, would you say the world is getting smarter or dumber? Would you guess the collective suicide rate is rising or falling? Well, it turns out that when the experts go digging for answers, the results are always weirder than you'd expect. For example ...
Sperm Counts Are Falling In Western Countries (And We Don't Know Exactly Why)
According to a study revealed at the ASRM summit (not to be confused with the ASMR summit, where people gather from all over the globe to discuss the best way to lick their lips into a microphone), sperm rates have dropped in half in both the U.S. and Europe in recent decades. The study examined 120,000 infertility patients whose sperm counts decreased significantly from 2002 to 2017, and another study found a similar trend. It's almost like the sperm know something.
Now, there could be environmental factors at play, as men in Asia, Africa, and South America have actually had an increase. It could be related to exposure to chemicals in plastics, which sometimes resemble the effects of estrogen. But that's just a theory, so don't swear off all contact with plastics just yet (you would pretty much have to live on a desert island to avoid them). It could also be diet and lifestyle changes, or other chemicals. All we know is that one way or the other, hundreds of millions of Western balls are under siege.
Now, there may be some out there thinking, "I don't want kids, so I'm rooting for chemicals to cause my scrotum to possibly burst into flame." Well, thanks for reading Cracked instead of fathering children, as it's a much more productive use of your time. But you should know that sperm count also serves as a window into the rest of your health, as men with better sperm quality have a higher life expectancy. So yeah, we probably need to get to the bottom of this.
IQ Scores Are Declining (After Decades Of Increases)
Cracked has written a lot about the Flynn effect in past years. This is a phenomenon discovered by James R. Flynn, which states that a population's intelligence quotient increases over time. And for a while, this was the case. But a new study has shown IQ scores have declined in the last couple of decades. But before you whip out your "We all knew that, because you idiots elected Trump!" jokes, note that the study was done in Britain, France, Finland, Denmark, and Estonia, and the decline turned up in all of them.
And before you start with the Idiocracy references, know that the decline is not due to dumb people having more children. They're recording these same decreases within families, and it's not like only nerds were having sex back when the Flynn effect was going strong. Instead, it apparently has a lot to do with environmental factors, such as changes in nutrition, media environment, and education systems. It's also been suggested that the IQ test itself is outdated.
We don't really know, because there are so many factors that affect intelligence (yes, including genes), and even more factors that make it hard to measure, especially across generations and cultures. That's right: As a species, we're not smart enough to measure how dumb we are.
More People Than Ever Before Have Food Allergies
Food allergies have been around since, well, food. There were probably some ancient Greeks who got wicked shits any time they ate cheese. But now, more people than ever can't handle at least some kind of food, and it seems to be getting worse. In the United States alone, 15 million people suffer from a food allergy, and once every three minutes, someone has to go to the emergency room for an allergic reaction (it's not the same person every time, to be clear).
It would be easy to say that scientists and doctors are simply more aware of allergies than they were in decades past. Despite knowing about peanut allergies for a while, doctors did not take it seriously until a 1988 medical journal article detailed a woman dying after eating a biscuit containing peanut oil. But there is also the hygiene hypothesis, which suggests that kids these days grow up in environments that are too clean, so they do not build up the necessary bodily defenses against certain microbes. So when your kid eats something that they found under the couch, let 'em. It might help. Might.
That said, even if you think one of these ideas sounds reasonable, scientists still don't know for sure. (Are you detecting a theme here?) Maybe it's all part of some massive conspiracy by the pharmaceutical industry to get people to purchase ludicrously expensive EpiPens.
Suicide Rates Are Falling Almost Everywhere ... Except The U.S.
Suicide rates have declined significantly over the last few decades, and I know that this is a controversial stance to take, but I feel like that's a good thing. Worldwide, the rate has fallen by 33 percent just since 1990. Suicide rates among young women in China have especially decreased since the 1990s. A booming economy, better access to health care, and a general decrease in everyday awfulness can work wonders.
Similar trends can be seen in South Korea, Japan, and Russia. But there's one country where this hasn't occurred, and it's, well, the country you're probably in right now. The suicide rate in the United States is the highest it's been in 50 years. This increase can particularly be seen in white, middle-aged Americans.
There doesn't seem to be a single clear contributing factor to this increase. (Are you surprised?) Many of these suicides take place in more rural areas, which have been hit hardest by the economic downturn. Rural areas also have less access to medical and mental health care, and tend to have been absolutely rocked by the opioid epidemic. It's basically a perfect storm of anxiety and mental health problems -- which, as you may have heard, manifest themselves in all sorts of ways.
And this extremely sad fact has led to another extremely sad fact ...
Life Expectancy In The U.S. Is Going Down For The First Time In A Century
As we gain access to better medicine and technology and stop sending our toddlers into coal mines, we should be able to live longer. So why, in 2017, did overall life expectancy in the U.S. fall from 78.7 years to 78.6 years? That doesn't seem like much, but remember, the last time it dropped to that extent, we were dealing with a goddamn influenza pandemic.
Well, we've already pointed out one problem. 47,173 Americans took their own lives in 2017 alone. Yes, people are killing themselves in such high numbers that it's bringing the overall life expectancy of the country down. And remember that aforementioned opioid epidemic? See, in the absence of a suicide note, coroners will rule a death as accidental overdose, so if someone took drugs in order to take their own life, it never gets counted that way. And over 70,000 people died from a drug overdose in 2017.
Sadly, there is little support for programs designed to help give people the resources they need to improve mental health. The Orlando Sentinel detailed how youth have to wait anywhere from three weeks to six months to even see a professional for a consultation, and even from that point, it can be difficult to continue seeing professionals. And that's not even getting into whether your insurance will pay for services.
We're in the middle of a genuine epidemic in the United States, but barely anything is happening to curb it. So yeah, if you're in crisis, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. And please watch this video of cats trying desperately to understand Roombas so that we can end this column with SOME semblance of levity.
For more, check out F*ck Floss: 3 (Thankfully) Debunked Health Myths:
Also, we'd love to know more about you and your interesting lives, dear readers. If you spend your days doing cool stuff, drop us a line at iDoCoolStuff at Cracked dot com, and maybe we can share your story with the entire internet.
Follow us on Facebook. Because why not?