When I think of summertime, I think of lemonade stands, sand in my bathing suit, and three blissful months during which it’s okay to eat ice cream every day. But sultry weather gives rise to more than overindulgence in Ben & Jerry’s: statistics show that people behave differently during the summer months than they do the rest of the year, and sometimes in the most unexpected ways, such as eating small French fries.
Violent crimes tend to become more frequent in summer, according to a study in the medical journal Stress and Health. Study author Dr. John Simister, summarizing his research to the Brooklyn Paper, explained that stress hormones, like adrenaline, increase in hot weather, causing people to be more aggressive. The human body is good at acclimating itself, so most of us become used to the rise in mercury and adrenaline before too long. We deal less well with extremes, however, which is why the most gruesome violent crimes occur during temperature spikes. Simister refers to this phenomenon in his study as “thermal stress.”
“All types of violence—from murder to assault—get worse on extremely hot days,” Simister told the online lifestyle magazine Asylum. “But they’re mostly impulse crimes, not premeditated. For example, if it’s cool, you may not react much if someone parks in your parking space. But in very hot weather, you might be so angry that you want to shoot someone.”
Simister’s research doesn’t account for the fact that we don’t all run around carrying .45s in case someone takes our parking spots, but his message is worth noting.
Take Me Out to the ER
Simister’s conclusion supports the theory that emergency room doctors and nurses get “slammed” during the summer months. For example, NHS Direct, the hotline of the British National Health Service, reports that during a typical week in summer, it receives more than two thousand calls regarding heat-related symptoms requiring emergency care. And, as Simister’s research suggests, not all heat-related illnesses show such a direct relationship to the hot weather.
In addition to heat exhaustion, dehydration, insect bites and stings, sunburn, fainting, breathing difficulties, and hay fever, emergency room visits for allergies (including food allergies), food poisoning from food left out in the sun, injuries from outdoor activities, and heat-related diabetes complications increase from June to August. (Oh, and don’t forget those aggravated-assault injuries over parking spaces.)
To help people stay out of crowded emergency rooms this summer, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) urge Americans to follow summer safety tips that include: wear sunblock, drink plenty of water, don’t eat food that hasn’t been refrigerated, and, most of all, stay cool.
In a 1972 Journal of Sex Research article entitled “Current Events and Human Coitus,” William H. James argued that the New York City blackout of 1965 had couples all over Gotham, well, coupling. What else is there to do with no lights or television?
Even without a blackout, hot weather tends to alter bedroom behavior for the better. A contributor to the Badger Herald, the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s student-run newspaper, explains, “The birds and the bees have sex in spring. Human beings have sex in the summer.”
“The weather is hot and the girls are wearing less,” seconds Will Smith, expert on getting jiggy. “It’s like the summer’s a natural aphrodisiac.”
Summer brings its own breed of stress—from heat-related illnesses, injuries, and, apparently, homicidal maniacs raging over parking spaces—but Walt Whitman didn’t seem too worried about food-borne illnesses in Leaves of Grass:
“I mind how once we lay, such a transparent summer morning;
How you settled your head athwart my hips, and gently turn’d over upon me,
And parted the shirt from my bosom-bone, and plunged your tongue to my bare-stript heart,
And reach’d till you felt my beard, and reach’d till you held my feet.”
That’s because summer is the best time for relieving stress, too.
Emergency room visits, amorous encounters, even the occurrence of violent crimes make sense in relation to hot weather, but small French fries?
The German Farmers’ Association (DBV) warned consumers that the unusually hot weather in summer 2010 would mean tiny potatoes and smaller-than-average French fries at harvest time. German fries would shrink from 2.2 inches to about 1.8 inches, according to DBV spokeswoman Verena Telaar. “The French fries industry and consumers will have to brace themselves for shorter fries,” she said in a press release. Even the New York Times weighed in, calling the shortage a “French fry crisis.”
It’s Getting Hot in Here
The record-breaking heat of 2010 is threatening more crops than just potatoes: melons, strawberries, and grains, to name a few. And it reminds us that all these hot-weather phenomena—violent crimes, heat-related illnesses, and food shortages—are increasing in frequency as the world gets hotter and hotter. And taking off all our clothes offers only short-term relief for this long-term problem.