The business section of today's International Herald Tribune features an article by Alina Tugend entitled "As vacations shrink, health risk may rise." The article cites a number of epidemiological studies indicating a clear correlation between how much vacation people take from work and how healthy they are. Here is one alarming example from the story:
Using information from the Framingham Heart Study, which started in 1948, researchers looked at questionnaires that women in the study had filled out over 20 years about how often they took vacations. Those women who took a vacation once every six years or less were almost eight times more likely to develop coronary heart disease or have a heart attack than those who took at least two vacations a year, said Elaine Eaker, a co-author of the study and president of Eaker Epidemiology Enterprises, a private research company.
Another study, published in 2000, looked at 12,000 men over nine years who were at high risk for coronary heart disease. Those who failed to take annual vacations had a 21 percent higher risk of death from all causes and were 32 percent more likely to die of a heart attack.
As the article also points out, the United States is the only industrialized nation in the world that does not mandate, by law, a certain minimum vacation time. Yet 127 other countries do, including, of course, France, where everyone who works is entitled to 5 weeks' holiday each year, and the United Kingdom, where the minimum the last time I checked is 4 weeks (this does not include paid holidays, which are also generous in both countries.)
For some observers, the generous social benefits enjoyed by Europeans help explain why they are not as "productive" as Americans, as measured by normal economic measures. But the intense work ethic so prevalent in the United States is clearly bad for the health of Americans, if not their happiness. Is there more to life than work? Some think so, even if others might believe that all this hard work will earn them a place in heaven one day (but the problem with betting all your todays on an afterlife tomorrow is that if you lose, you lose big.)
The Trib article includes a number of quotes from one John de Graaf, executive director of a non-profit organization called Take Back Your Time. Check out their interesting Web site. And you might also want to keep tabs on some legislation that de Graaf mentions, called the Minimum Leave Protection, Family Bonding and Personal Well-being Act, which would call for a mandated 3 weeks of vacation each year. De Graaf is hoping that it will be introduced into Congress in 2009. As the Web site points out, it could be a great campaign issue--one that both Obama and McCain could get behind. After all, what is more American than family bonding?
Update I: The Los Angeles Times reports today that a new study of 18,225 men by the Harvard School of Public Health finds that "men who are deficient in the so-called sunshine vitamin -- vitamin D -- have more than double the normal risk of suffering a heart attack." The article also points out: "Just last week, another study found that low levels of vitamin D increased the risk of diabetes, and a study last month linked deficiencies to an increased risk of dying from breast cancer." The new research is reported in the current issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine. Now, didn't I just say that you needed to take a holiday in the sun?
Update II: Steven Greenhouse, a writer for the New York Times, tackles the vacation gap in Slate. Greenhouse suggests this might be a good campaign issue for Obama and McCain.
News Update: Speaking of "taking a break" (or perhaps, "give me a break"), Bush is touring Europe this week, and the report from Slovenia today is that he is lobbying for a "tougher line" against Iran. Would I sound like a 60s peacenik if I said that the American right-wing has little else to do with itself than attempting to take us lurching from one war to another? The constant necessity to target and demonize the "other" is oh so reminiscent of how Hitler got an entire nation to destroy Europe 60-70 years ago. But it does seem that the U.S. and Israel are desperate to launch an attack on Iran before the end of Bush's term. Will we stop them?